Journey into Poetry: Amber Haines

I must have been twelve, in the limbo between bra and Barbie, when a children’s nature magazine came in my name with photos I had hoped would inspire something new out of my quiet country life. For me it was all dogs in the yard, catfish in the pond, and honeysuckles choking the life out of pines. I remember the magazine was boring, but there was a centerfold, and who doesn’t get excited with a centerfold? It wasn’t a grand map as with National Geographic, no, but it was a large poster of a purple flower. I unfolded it and tacked it to the back of my bedroom door.

The lens had zoomed in close, and you could see the petals soft like skin, balancing drops of dew in morning light. It seemed to go with the girlish theme of my room, the flowering wallpaper border on the walls. Beneath the purple flower was printed this:

She went as quiet as the dew
From a familiar flower.
Not like the dew did she return
At the accustomed hour!

by Emily Dickinson

I repeated it to myself aloud. Again and again I would say it under my breath, and it became mine. I felt strange inside, like I knew that Dickinson was. I learned about her as I looked for other words. Death in the rhyme, the loneliness, the dew, and the snake—all of it became that thing inside me I couldn’t put my finger on.

That’s how it was for me with poetry. There were things that haunted: what was in our attic or in the bottom of the well? Why God and sex and death? Why not rock-n-roll? It was poetry that acknowledged invisible things, the things that haunt us.

I knew then, because of Emily Dickinson and my Hello Kitty journal, that I would grow to be a writer. I never changed my mind about it. I would flunk math but walk in on my English teacher and see tears floating in her eyes. Words move people.

In college, my professors were poets. Give me a poet over the president, over any star in Hollywood. I entered workshops, and we sliced and diced each other. I learned quickly that it’s not all for me. I enjoyed the parameters and the arduous pursuit of sound and sense, but most of the time it felt devoid of meaning, as in – I didn’t understand a word of it. The non-academic truth about poetry is that much of it doesn’t speak to me because sound alone isn’t enough to trump life.

Two years into an MFA in poetry, the love of it had disappeared. Three years after leaving the Program, I had birthed three boys, and in that time had turned my back on the words, until life did what it does and I had a miscarriage. Poetry was the only way I managed to navigate it.

It’s been 8 years since then, and even now it hits me just right. “She went as quiet as the dew.” Poetry helps me remember.

Photo by MattTrollen, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Amber C. Haines.


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  1. says

    The healing power, the discovery of the mystery, the hidden and the unseen becoming understood–you unravel the mystery of poetry while keeping it mysterious. Paradox, you, pardox your words. Beautiful mystery in your art. And as always, you dip your brush in both ends of the palette, the cold and hot colors both find a place on your canvas. A lovley coexistence that is your voice.

  2. says

    Amber, this is beautiful. I love the way you describe the effect those words had on you, the way they became a body memory for you. I had similar experiences with Jabberwocky and Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. When I was pregnant with my daughter I read her poetry all the time, and I believe she loved it. She still likes me to read it to her. Poetry has always grabbed me by the heart and the throat t the same time. It’s interesting, I had a miscarriage and stopped creating altogether; photography, art, writing. In the last 18 months I’ve jumped back in and even started writing poetry again. I loved this post. Thanks.

  3. says

    first – i always find poetry in your prose. it’s why i read you.

    second – writing poetry fixes me but reading it undoes all the prayer and therapy and prozac of my years. i had to compile twenty-four pieces for my students last week. my teammate found me in tears at my desk and i had to finish later. nikki giovanni. naomi shahib nye. langston hughes….sigh. stabbing beauty, really.

  4. says

    I was an English major in college, emphasis in Creative Writing. I thought short story would be my strength, but poetry sucked me in. I actually found the first hoarse whisper of a voice in those classes.

    Thank you for taking me back, Amber.

    • says

      Ann, I love that you said “horse whisper of a voice.” I think the MFA did put me in a position that I began to hear my voice, but it was LIVING that really did it to me.

  5. says

    Oh gosh, Amber, the way you talk about poetry makes me want to sit in a field and write prose, girl. Poetry is what gote through a miscarriage, too, and I also laid it aside for years while having babies. I picked up poetry at a young age, but life got in the way– busy teenage years, growing up, college, etc. I’m glad, like you, I found it again.

  6. Janet says

    Beautiful Amber. I have to admit I struggle reading poetry. I try and bring home poetry books from the library and read a bit but it just never seems to click. Which poet would you recommend to someone who is having trouble getting started? Thanks for any advice you can share with me :)

    • says

      First, you should subscribe to John Blase’s blog at

      If you’re anything like me, you’ll like the poetry where not everything is trying to hide. John doesn’t hide what he means. It has plenty of depth, but it’s not trying to sound smart. You know what I mean?

      Then try Matthew Dickman. He wrote All-American Poem. It’s lovely. Something I really enjoy doing is listening to poetry. It seems to take hold of me that way. When I read it, I love to read it out loud. Also, try listening to YouTube videos. Dickman’s poem “Slow Dance” can make you hold your breath longer than you ever thought you could.

  7. says

    I was not writing at all when I had my miscarriage, while pursuing a master’s in English. Never got that master’s. Came back to writing anyway.

    I met a young woman who said that an MFA in poetry practically ruined it for her forever. But when I met her, she was finding her own way back.

    Maybe a lot of us have to do that.

    • says

      Megan, before I started the program, a friend advised me not to do it. He said I needed to live a little before I could learn to apply anything I would learn. I believe he was right.

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