Why I write poetry (badly)

I used to be intimidated by poetry. I think a lot of people feel this way. I’m just not smart enough or witty enough or cultured enough to get it, I think. Poetry is obtuse. It’s difficult. It’s like a wooden puzzle that I can’t find the secret latch to unfurl the solution, I whine.

There’s an interiority to poetry that can obfuscate logical sense-making, and once I embraced that poetry was more about experiencing and less about figuring out a line of reasoning, a lot of poetry opened up to me. I didn’t have to have a poem “figured out” to experience it the way the poet intended! Some poetry still overwhelms me with its obscurity, but one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2020 was to read more poetry. In doing so, I’ve found poets like Ada Limon, Mary Ruefle, and Ross Gay, whose work is accessible and speaks to something right down at the level of my soul.

The other thing that helped me was to start writing poetry regularly. In February and March, I wrote one poem every day. I kept a small journal and pencil on my nightstand, and every night before I went to sleep, I made myself write a poem. Late night was the only time I could muster a poem because I had to wait until my Ego-Critic had exhausted herself. If I was tired, I reasoned, then it was okay to write a really, really, really bad poem. And did I. Lots of them.

But the experiment was fruitful. I began to love the process. I began to hold images from my day in my head, ready to be unleashed that night on the page. Jenny Boully writes in Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life, “When life filters through you, it has given you a gift. Will you be poet enough to return this gift on the page? Life will filter through you and deposit gifts your way. You must be astute enough to see what each thing has to say.” This is why writing poetry, even badly, is so important.

As I kept writing poem after poem, I channeled deeper into emotions I wouldn’t have otherwise, closer to something accessed by other rituals like prayer and meditation. I was collecting what the universe offered, dribs, drabs, metaphorical trinkets, and tchotchkes that would have been lost otherwise.

“Poetry is an instant. It is an instant in which transcendence is achieved, where a miracle occurs, and knowledge, experience, and memory are obliterated and transformed into awe. The instant passes so quickly.” -Jenny Boully

Small, daily rituals are imperative for fostering wonder. I also love a good challenge, too. This August marks the 3rd annual Sealey Challenge. The goal is to read one (chap)book of poetry a day for the entire month. I’m not officially doing the challenge this year, but I’ve loved the way my friends have exploded my social media feeds with poems. I’m drinking them up and finding moments of awe everywhere.

Here are some poems that inspired my awe:

Ada Limon’s “The Conditional”

Ross Gay’s “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude”

Jane Hirshfield’s “All the Difficult Hours and Minutes”

Mary Ruefle’s “Blood Soup”

Which poems make your soul sing?

What daily rituals do you practice to bring awe and wonder to your days?