Someone asked me recently what kind of poet I am, why I write, and how I engage with the community. I have always written creatively but have spent most of my career, decades in fact, deep in the mysteries of Jungian therapy, mythology, and addiction recovery in a clinical private practice.
In 2019, seven years retired from my full-time life in psychology, and leaving my position as Docent/Public Speaker for the Friends of the Elephant Seal, I curated a poetry event locally in San Luis Obispo, that included 8 poets, music, photography and video, welcoming over 200 people. The core value in the presentation was invitational. I shared the words of Mary Oliver who said, “Pay attention, Be astonished, Tell about it.” I asked the audience to honor their creative instincts with the writing of one single line each day as a way to break a barrier and enter the zone of writer.
Each of us takes our personal lives, the diversity of our experience and brings them forward into our writing. When we are able to do that, whether by trying to write a sestina, mirroring patterns of the Bard or simply trying to see into our own past, we are able to witness our collective lives and our personal history from a new perspective. Both the writer and listener are integrally changed in the process.
My goal as a poet is to be inclusive and invitational. I like to bring poetry to new places and to people who have not yet found safety or the absence of judgement in that space. I imagine the Johnny Appleseed approach is close in spirit to who I am as a poet. I am studied but not a scholar of poetry, but I love the act of writing. It is often a meditative posture, an inquiring state, a moment of stillness and hearing beyond the most persistent sounds. This is a focus on process not product, one that can loosen the stifling demand for perfection. I want to encourage writers to write, to read, to take risks and focus on the process of listening deeply.
I have read to bakery workers and various private club members, 12 Step meetings, Kiwanis/Rotary breakfasts and lunches, and girl scout troops. I want to continue these acts and hope to leave as legacy a whole new segment of our population that can feel safe and enthusiastic about writing poems.
I want my own work to be accessible and bring people towards it. Neil Gaiman said: “Stories are not a luxury, but something we live and die for.” Poems are little stories, often ones that peek behind the obvious. Full of detail and surprise, they can bring you into your future, into your feet while watching a parade and back to that sense of being eleven years old and watching crawfish nibble on your toes in the creek behind the house.
Everyone has stories. I believe that poetry is a bridge, giving entry to another space or perhaps more accurately another perspective on where we are. It is an invitation to pause and be still long enough to notice that we have an inner life as well as outer one.
I want to open the doors to poetry, not so much as teacher but as a midwife or doorman ushering people into an age-old area of expression that has the ability to change both the reader and the writer. I want to model taking the risk to share one’s own writing, and desensitize those long traumatized by the once outer, and now internalized judge. My goal will be to find play, laughter, meaning and the courage to explore.
Our beleaguered world is in need of many solutions. Writing poetry as art, as expression, as cure, are all valid points of participation. Too many people are unnerved by poetry or have a very limited view of what it is. They sometimes feel stupid in the presence of it. This reaction leads to an experience not unlike losing the use of a limb. If we are to recover as individuals, communities, or planetary residents, we must use every tool available to us to find our voice, tell our stories and listen more intently to each other and the earth that is now talking to us in a big way. Tapping into and encouraging the creative energies of people in our beautiful county, our country and our world can do nothing but help us right this teetering ship we call Earth and Home.
I am deeply convinced that all the arts come now as medicine. Medicine for the all the pandemic related, economic, political and earthly fragilities that are now resident bedfellows. Paying attention, listening deeply and finding our individual and collective voices is massively essential to our well-being as travelers on this somewhat fragile planet.
I aspire to write and celebrate my community in such a spirit.