as if I’ve hauled my sweaty-palmed, embarrassed self to my first P.A. support group, dreading the moment…ugh..now it’s my turn.
Inhale. Close my eyes. Exhale. Open my eyes. Scan the room. Say it.
Hi, I’m Tracy and I’m a poet.
The reason this is a difficult admission for me?
Often I’d prefer to be nobody, like the narrator in Emily Dickinson’s poem I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you – a Poet – Too?
In the late 1980’s when I first began thinking of myself as a poet, I went public. I enjoyed reading before an audience, I published poems, I told people I didn’t even know that I was—a poet (albeit a beginning, not especially skilled one).
You know those annoying, wildly in love (or lust) people
who don’t have the decency to refrain from public displays of affection. Yeah, that was me, with poetry. I was passionately attracted to poetry, infatuated, over the moon.
…I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. (Elizabeth Barret Browning)
I wasn’t content to merely love poetry, I needed to know poetry.
So I sought therapies: New Criticism and Deconstruction.
That’s when I learned that Literary Criticism is very, um, critical. As happens with all relationships, disillusionment arrived. Conflict. Anger.
I thought a rational approach would gain me a finer appreciation for poetry. Instead, a masculine Lit. Crit. voice took up residence in my head. He spoke in New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics jargon with a British-Royal-Family accent. Whenever I read or wrote poems, he pushed his way into the party and deconstructed obnoxiously, “What about gender…race…ideology…Freud…Marx…irony…the failure of Romanticism…and who chooses the canon?” He questioned me into chaos. I began to see poems (those I read and those I wrote) as meager, undernourished, whiny, insignificant, annoying.
I stopped calling myself a poet; I took up with memoir. I had a fling with fiction.
I left poetry but poetry wouldn’t leave me.
Poetry knew me; poetry loved me. And then I was living in New Hampshire, a place crawling with poets.
Without willing it to happen, I made friends with dozens of poets. Like Donald Hall, I daily gazed up at Mount Kearsarge. My appreciation for poetry renewed. I took a workshop led by Maxine Kumin. I met Patricia Fargnoli (former NH Poet Laureate), who stood on Frost’s grave and wrote a prize-winning poem about it. She became my mentor for two years. I became good friends with Alice B. Fogel (current NH Poet Laureate) and Katherine Solomon.
I persisted in calling myself a writer, not a poet, although I continued to write poems. I also continued to write creative nonfiction and fiction.
In 2015, I thought I was in the happily-ever-after phase
of my relationship with poetry—contentment, quiet respect, affection, living in a romantic, literary landscape (New England!)—
But then came the explosive crisis.
The diagnosis of my husband’s dementia overturned all my plans. Suddenly the only thing I wanted was to go home—to Minnesota—to be near my family, to curl up under the porch of the old homestead and whimper. In February, 2016, I moved us.
Two years have passed and the crisis has been, predictably (however much I did not anticipate this),
followed by blessing.
The story of my romance with poetry has now passed through all the stages of a lifelong marriage—passionate attraction, disillusionment, anger and infidelities, renewed appreciation and the business of day-to-day, explosive crisis and blessings.
Now it’s time for synthesis.
I have enjoyed a renewed kinship with family, with old friends, and with Minnesota, a place I had no intention of learning to love again. I have formed a new, entirely different but abundantly lovely and loving relationship with my changed and ever-changing husband. Poems and spiritual words provide some solace. Having become proficient in navigating poetry’s creative, illogical, non-linear ways of knowing, I am adapting to living with dementia’s amusing-aggravating-terrifying-mystifying thoughts and behaviors.
Poetry, and his dementia, and my recent association as an Oblate with a nearby Benedictine monastery have served as gateways:
- to an awareness of the ever-present-now;
- to prayer life providing spiritual and emotional sustenance;
- to a loving community of like-minded seekers.
All of this summons long-buried memories and new ways of seeing.
There comes a time when we must accept who we have been, which brings us to who we are.
I am a poet and a writer. I have my topics. Love. Loss. Poetry. Benedictinism.
I invite you to join me here in exploring how they—how everything in our ordinary-mystical lives—interconnects.
What summons your long buried memories and/or new ways of seeing?
Photo on Visual Hunt