I hadn’t seen Amy in years, but during a mini-reunion with old high school friends she asked about my poetry. “I still have the poem you wrote for me when my dad died, ” she told me.
I didn’t remember writing the poem, but the idea that words, poetic words, would help connect me to a grieving friend sounded familiar. It’s how I still cope. Just last week as I was facing an anxious night myself, I pulled out a book of poetry a friend had given me. One after another I read through the verses.
Contrary to the stereotypical poet sequestered alone with a journal and a bottle of wine, poetry has always provided a way for me to reach out to others, to invite them into my life or join them in theirs.
When I was a teenager, I wrote love poems to God and shared them with my religious friends. I also wrote a love poem to the young man who was a student-teacher in our PE class for a semester—a schoolgirl crush exposed on paper. I wrote poems to read at church, and I wrote poems to my mom on special occasions.
My writing took a turn in college, when I had to force my words into AP style and inverted pyramids rather than using them to reach out to others. I abandoned poetic conversations for headlines and leads.
When I joined the staff of a daily newspaper, words became more work. I thought only of deadlines. As my job became increasingly about city council meetings and the local police blotter, I knew I couldn’t do it much longer.
I continued to think of words as work long after I stopped being paid a journalist’s salary and long before I cashed my first free-lance check. Play with words? Who had time for that? Connecting to people with words? It seemed provincial.
But occasionally, I would come across a poem that took my breath away. I would marvel, so few words to say so much. I heard poets reading what they’d birthed, and I felt connected to them through the rhythm and the rhymes.
One day, I heard Garrison Keillor reading poems on NPR in his Writer’s Almanac. It was like an infusion of blood into my anemic writer’s soul. I began listening to his poems every day, often stopping just to soak up the words, sometimes jotting down titles to pass along to a friend.
Even if I’m not writing poetry, I now know I have to hear it, I have to see it, I have to have it in regular doses or the other writing I’m doing begins to suffer.
And poetry still connects me to others. I met a distant cousin for the first time on Saturday, her binder full of poems nestled in her giant backpack. As we sat waiting for lunch, I read a few of her poems, each tucked carefully in plastic sheet protectors, the paper kept safe… while her heart fell open before me in those words.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In February we’re exploring the theme Red.