Secret Poetry

For years I carried around a grimy, secret shame that I, self-proclaimed writer and lover of words, couldn’t enjoy poetry.

Every time I read a poem, I felt nothing. None of the sublime emotions that seemed to send other people soaring. None of the urgent, visceral power that seemed to shake them by the lapels.

In Ms. Rix’s twelfth-grade English class, we studied Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, a collection of poems he wrote on Sylvia Plath’s birthday every year after she died. It’s incredibly raw stuff, and it completely passed me by.

I wanted so much to understand the intensity I could see on the page, and couldn’t feel.

But it never happened, and so I shrugged off the idea that it was something I needed to care about, and turned my focus to other things.

And then, three years ago, I ripped open a new chapter in my life, and there, like a pulsing heart on the empty page, was poetry.

Emerging from the maelstrom, I had expected nothing, accepted nothing.

But where I had expected a vacuum, I found a jungle, a wild, riotous cornucopia of feeling.

Things that I had never let myself get near before became unavoidable, and poetry was the map that let me safely explore this new territory.  

Today poetry is more like a monkey than a map, springing up to surprise me and make me laugh, moving me with its humanity and honesty.

I know I’m mixing metaphors, but poetry has been all this to me and more.

And I realise now that all those years ago, when I was ashamed, I couldn’t bear a poet’s words.

I couldn’t stand the deep feelings, disconnected as I was from my own.

Because that’s what poetry is: a heart’s cry, all pretence violently cast away to show the truth of things, and I had not yet faced the truth of things.

This work goes on and on. And if you’re a writer, this is the work: to venture into the jungle within until we can see a path through the overgrowth, and to face the truth of things.

What truth have you not yet allowed yourself to face? Could you turn towards it on the page today, even just for a few minutes?