It is National Poetry Month. I wonder if this intrigues people or makes them glaze over because they think poetry has nothing to do with their lives. I suppose it depends on how one defines poetry. I hear people say it is something that rhymes … or that it is obscure … highbrow, or they just don’t “get it.”
But I say, we all have poetry in our lives. Poetry is experiencing a beautiful sunset, feeling the warmth of an embrace; it is shedding tears of great joy or unfathomable sorrow, it is noticing the way your child bends with intent over his coloring book or watching, with gratitude, your partner fix the leaky faucet. Poetry is the “noticing” of life, of our emotions, our actions, our beliefs, our questions.
This, too, is the heart of the journaling process – the working out of these aspects of life on the page. And sometimes, in the words we write, we discover what Virginia Woolf called “shivering fragments” – the ah-ha insights, the seeds of wonderful ideas or strings of lyrical words. Let me give you an example.
Last week I had a coaching conversation with a colleague about the discomfort I feel being the center of attention. I have been leading groups, facilitating retreats and public speaking for many years, yet I still have this strange discomfort, which is disconcerting because I have many such engagements ongoing with my work.
I knew I had to face this challenge and set some time aside to free write in my journal about it. The process took me back to a time I had all but forgotten, or so I thought. I was a young child of about six, performing at a dance recital. Dressed as a butterfly, it was my turn to float delicately across the stage on tiptoes. At center stage I tripped and fell flat, my hands and knees stinging badly, not to mention my poor little ego. I don’t remember the audience’s reaction but the embarrassment is still palpable. As I continued to journal, I realized that somewhere in my child-self I must have decided that being the center of attention, as I was that night, could hurt me, that something would surely embarrass me. It was an amazing moment of personal awareness.
Then a few days ago, while sitting outside listening to the early sounds of morning and writing in my journal, I processed the experience further. This time it felt like my heart wanted to speak of it and so came forth, small phrases and images that took the form of a poem. I have called it “Feathers” and here is what I wrote:
Sun shines in wisps of wind
birds, yes of course, you hear
babies little squawking chirps
hidden in branches, holding there.
I never saw one in its nest quivering
with life and hunger, only later,
beak down in the pool or on rocks at the base of a tree
leaving too soon, wings un-feathered, to fly.
I’ve done that, too – jumped before strength
sprouted full my bones, my heart fell
flat to bruised knees, stinging palms, wounding
Self in other ways I could not fathom then.
At least I could get up, though
red-faced and spindle-boned, lick
my wounds until feathers grew
full and flush to fly, try again.
When I finished writing, something else felt finished in me. I had acknowledged the little girl who got bruised in several ways that night, long ago. And I found a way to process the experience for my adult self with an analogy from Nature, which always feels real and true for me. I didn’t know it would happen in this way, but then ..
This, I think, is Poetry.
Will this new knowledge help ease my discomfort? I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted. Either way, allowing my heart to speak on the page – in whatever way it chose – felt good. Even if no one else “gets it” I do, and I am wiser for it.