I learned to love reading poetry before I learned to love writing it. When we first started to study poetry at school, I remember thinking, “I didn’t know words were capable of this”- that they could be combined so beautifully it made you shiver, or that they could make you recall someone else’s memories.
Poetry communicated more than just ideas, it communicated subjective feeling, allowed me to see inside the mind and the heart of another.
Even now when I’m alone, I often read a line or two of a poem and look around wide-eyed, mouth agape, wondering if anyone else felt the wave of impact I did, the artistry of the language, the intensity of the truth being expressed.
An example: I was sitting in my kitchen alone not so long ago. I was reading the poem, ‘Forse un mattino’ from Ossi di seppia, the first book of poetry by Eugenio Montale, an Italian poet of the 1900s. Here is the translated poem:
It might be, one morning, walking in dry, glassy air,
I will turn around – with a drunkard’s terror –
to see the miracle:
the nothing at my back, the void behind me.
Then, as on a screen, trees houses hills
will gather again for the usual illusion.
But it will be too late, and I’ll walk on in silence,
amongst men who don’t look back, cradling my secret.
Do you feel that sense of unsettledness, maybe even fear? Perhaps you looked back, just in case? This poem is more than the sum of its eight lines. It is either a window into a frightening truth, or an outlandish conspiracy. It could be an empty man’s cry for help or the wisdom of one who knows the secrets of reality.
Whatever it is, it left me wide-eyed, mouth agape, wondering if anyone else felt the wave of impact I did.
So, when I was first asked to write a poem, I felt wholly inept. Would I ever be able to give someone the same feeling poems gave me? I somehow decided that the key to achieving that wave of impact was lyricism and technique and I found myself hiding behind metaphors and oxymorons.
It was not until a mentor of mine asked me, “what are you actually trying to say?” that I realised my honesty had been lost in my vocabulary. Clever language can sometimes mask the truth, and when you’re writing about domestic violence or the Holocaust, it’s easier to hide behind the mask.
It’s only since starting to perform poetry more publicly that I have been forced to reckon with things I had tried to avoid.
Reading poetry showed me that the secret parts of another can resonate with the secret parts of me. I now have to build the courage to be honest in return.
Writing allows me to reveal my opinions, my experiences, my observations without fear, without pretence. It has been a mirror to my soul as well as a window to the world.