Once more with feeling

I’ve been moved to tears reading poems written by other people recently. Yesterday for the first time I cried as I read a poem that I had written. It was a rough interpretation for my husband including full-body gestures for words I didn’t know in Portuguese and I still cried when I came to read out a line about making coffee.

Today I started reading How to grow your own poem, in which Kate Clanchy encourages readers to borrow the scaffolding of other poems in order to hold up their own writing. I wrote a poem following the structure of Edip Cansever’s The table and then felt totally overwhelmed when I read my own poem back. Perhaps it is the act of intentionally stirring and sifting memories that brings all of the emotion up to the surface. Perhaps not. Either way I wasn’t prepared for it.

I don’t think I’d ever really considered the possibility of being confronted by overwhelming emotion when writing before. I suppose the idea that writing can be courageous isn’t new to me, and I appreciate brave and vulnerable writing by others, but as someone whose emotions sometimes take days to show up, keeping a lid on feelings has always been important for me.

I read through Rita Ann Higgins’ powerful poem Some people with no problem. But then the moment came for ‘Your Turn – If this poem speaks to you, try your own version. It is a powerful poem for releasing anger…’ and I realised that to start the poem would lift the lid on a lot of big emotions that I’ve kept locked away for a long time. I can see how writing the big emotions out of me and into the poem would very likely be an excellent idea, but there is probably a better time to start it than just as my daughter begins waking from her nap. So I might just come back to that one.

And as I sit here, with the the thunder still rolling over the mountains and the night sky flashlit pink by forked lightning, I’ve been reflecting on Kate Clanchy’s words when she says that to create authenticity in your own poems, ‘you have to believe that your life belongs in a poem’. And I’m beginning to think I do.

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