Have you ever found a poem you wish you could adopt as your mouthpiece?
I am taking a free poetry class on Coursera called Modern & Contemporary American Poetry.
Recently, we studied Emily Dickinson's poem, "The Brain within its Groove".
I could not help but see the parallel between this poem and my life.
This is something I love about poetry: it makes you think.
The brain within its groove
Runs evenly and true;
But let a splinter swerve,
'T were easier for you
To put the water back
When floods have slit the hills,
And scooped a turnpike for themselves,
And blotted out the mills!
For most of my life, I lived within a rigid personal belief system.
I hated paradox of any sort.
If I spotted paradox, in fact, I quickly reconstructed it to fit into my "dualistic" paradigm.
Many years ago, a dear friend came to me with a personal story which ripped a hole in the walls of my belief system.
The story didn't fit into any of the boxes I had carefully labeled and filed away.
It forced me to open those boxes, dump them out and reexamine their contents.
That ol' splinter Emily mentions, well, it swerved me, derailing my thundering belief-train.
While I kept some of that content, I never rebuilt "the system", for I saw that if I was being completely honest, those boxes had always contained certain paradoxes and mysteries which could neither be labeled nor systematized.
Not only that, but this beautifully messy disorienting content was what gave my faith a heartbeat.
Just as Miss Dickinson suggests, once a splinter swerves the brain out of its groove, it would be easier to return a newly raging and rampaging river to its original placid path than to return the brain to its groove.
Once my mind had opened, I could not turn back to my old thinking.
The question remains, in Dickinson's poem, whether it is good or bad for a splinter to swerve the brain.
For me, it has been only good.
I run toward and embrace paradox and mystery.
After all, what joy is there in knowing everything that can be known?
A few months ago, I committed to writing one poem a day.
I am honestly terrible at keeping commitments, but the older I get, the more I see how a little self-discipline does me good.
Plus, I am pursuing writing as a career, and the only way to be a professional writer is to actually write, write and write some more.
I began sharing my poetry on Instagram daily. I gathered a small following.
And I wrote a poem through the proverbial thick and thin: at times around eleven pm and at other times from my perch in a hard-backed chair in my son's hospital room.
I stuffed an unlined notebook in my purse and pulled it out to scribble on anytime a thought, observation or idea assaulted me.
I was ever so faithful to my resolution.
Then, a few day ago, I was fed up, and it wasn't with my writing.
It was with this ridiculous tic I had developed: tapping the Instagram app on my phone every hour to see how many "likes" I had gotten on my newest poem.
Sometimes, I'd write a poem I loved, and it wouldn't garnish much attention. I'd wonder what was wrong with the poem.
Maybe I wasn't meant to write poetry?
At this juncture, in a move I never predicted, I broke up with my commitment to write one poem every day.
My reservoir, from whence had flown ideas and thoughts, well, it seemed to have dried up.
At around one o'clock a few mornings later, I was tossing and turning, wide awake in bed.
Why wasn't I writing?
Then I remembered something I'd read in Mary Oliver's book, A Poetry Handbook:
Various ambitions--to complete the poem,to see it in print,
to enjoy the gratification of someone's comment about it--
serve in some measure as incentives to the writer's work.
Though each of these is reasonable, each is a threat to that
other ambition of the poet, which is to write as well as Keats,
or Yeats, or Williams---...
I remembered this, and I knew why I couldn't write: I had lost focus.
My one-a-day poetry writing challenge was never about harvesting likes.
No, my foray into social media was about becoming a better writer and stepping "out there", being vulnerable!
I had become distracted by the pull of virtual accolades.
This realization was healing water, and it cleansed my creative spirit.
I woke the next morning refreshed...and promptly penned another poem.