Thank you to the IMAlive Crew for letting me step in and talk about the power of poetry in the midst of crisis as we recognize March 21st as World Poetry Day.
We all learn the basic structure of prose in school as kids – the limericks, the haiku, the sonnets. We construct our version of “Roses Are Red” for elementary school Mother’s Day cards, and for some of kids it’s just the start of nurturing lines of words in their heads. I was one of those kids. At an early age I started stringing words together to understand the emotions that I had on the inside. One of the earliest poems I wrote was about understanding the normalcy of death. Even at the age of 11 poetry helped me work through things I struggled with.
If you’ve reached out to IMAlive and talked to any of their crisis intervention workers, you know that one of the first things they may help you work on is something you can do to deal with your stress. Creative endeavors like poetry, drawing, making or listening to music can be great tools in dealing with stress. Like many others I turn to creative writing during my darker days. I curl up with the thoughtful poetry of Auden, the dark imagery of Poe. Sometimes I write my own. One of my favorite poets is Emily Dickinson.
Emily Dickinson was a prolific writer who left over 1800 poems stashed away in her family home at the time of her death. There was no international fame for her while she lived. She published only a small handful of poems that were all heavily edited to conform to the standards of writing at the time and printed without her name. She wrote volumes of letters and poems to family and friends as her means of remaining social, but her younger sister followed her instructions and the majority of her letters were burned after Emily’s death. Luckily for the world, her sister decided that Emily’s instructions had been specific to the letters and the hundreds of poems were spared.
Many of Emily Dickinson’s poetry focused on the beauty found in life and the heaviness of grief. She lost many she cared about in her small circle of family and friends before her own death at the age of 55. These loses were part of what compelled Emily to write. She developed a unique style of describing everything from nature to dying that stood out against the better-known poets of her time. The editors for the first publication tried to cleanse that style. They added words and punctuation, removed names, and added titles. Later editors embraced the true creativity of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and published them as originally written.
Like Emily Dickinson and so many others, I’ve always used written expression to work through emotions. This became especially true three years ago when I found myself thrown into the most life shattering moment of crisis I’ve ever dealt with. My family was tested in a way we didn’t see coming in 2016. Our story wasn’t unique which is part of what made it so tragic. We found ourselves another statistic in the opioid epidemic that has taken hold of the US. The experience of watching my son battle an addiction I thought at many points would kill him had me in constant crisis.
I survived these past three years because of a lot of excellent help and because of my notebooks and pens. I wrote long poems and short poems. I wrote letters that people read as poems. Whenever I felt like I was carrying more than my shoulders could bear I wrote it out. Sometimes I kept what I wrote, sometimes I didn’t. That part wasn’t important. The important part was that I wrote. The poems were my emotions on a page. Today I celebrate those short lines of prose for saving me. And I thank poets around the world for sharing their lines and feelings with all of us.