How and why I write poetry.
|Confessions of a Teenage Poet
It’s the screaming silence
I’m shivering from the heat
My dead heart’s beating hard
I’m falling on two feet.
The old feeling comes anew
The sleeping mind awakes
The lies are coming true
We’re flying on the brakes.
Tomorrow is yesterday
Changes stay the same
Forever is now over
Ripped by an icy flame.
But from the dark, a butterfly
With wings of purest light
Escapes the box of horrors
And makes its hopeful flight.
I was sitting at my computer, simply feeling in a poetic mood. My Facebook status was an empty box, the blinking cursor my ever encouraging companion. A few words came to me in the quiet… “It’s the screaming silence.” I quite liked that oxymoron, and after choosing an oxymoronic theme for the poem, the rest of the phrases came quickly. It was a simple process, I only stopped to think of ways to rhyme; before I knew it, three verses were written. The message was so dark, I didn’t want people to think I was depressed. I changed the beat of the poem and touched on my knowledge of the Greek myth “Pandora’s Box.” It ended the poem on a happy note and created a nice visual contrast of dark and light. I always title my work after it’s written, so I titled it “Pandora’s Box” in hopes people would see the parallels to my fourth verse’s inspiration. After proofreading a couple times to deal with grammar and punctuation, I hit “post.” I received some likes, nothing more. Naturally, I also stashed the poem in more private places than a Facebook wall. I liked it, I thought I’d done well enough. I hadn’t gone through some life-changing experience and sat in my room comprising confusing emotions into words to convey my conundrum. I sat down, wrote a poem, and put it on Facebook.
I did this sort of thing often. I’d write about things I hadn’t experienced. With “Pandora’s Box” it was accidental. Of course, it was very common for me to end up writing blindly considering how little experience I actually had. Imagine me as a sheltered child, having been homeschooled all her life. That was my reality. I knew nothing about school social interactions or classroom settings outside of what little I had learned from TV and books. Entering school in seventh grade at a private school where my classmates had all grown up together was a severe culture-shock, and the clique-like environment hindered my adaptation. While I was aware of how to communicate individually, I did not know how to converse within a large group. I was very quiet and listened intently, but altogether felt isolated. I would often have thoughts to contribute, but I wanted to be precise and original in my statements before speaking them aloud. As a result, developing a novel thought took me longer than everyone else, the topic quickly morphed in the way casual group conversations often do, and my words died before ever escaping my lips. Writing was my only outlet, the only way I had the time to make myself silently heard, as well as edit anything I “misspoke.” In addition to this, I had a wealth of material to write about. Back then everything was so new to me. I had a lot to learn, and every experience was a worthy topic to immortalize. Even I could not foresee the future use these preserved private lessons could have. I simply wrote them. Who was I to analyze my own work?
It was almost always smaller-scale experiences I would extrapolate to convey what I had envisioned its larger-scale counterparts to be. In “A Definition of Love,” I hyperbolized feelings I’d experienced (a school crush) and used dramatic imagery to convey what I could only imagine love (requited and unrequited) felt like. I then used a parallel writing style to describe each feeling.
Love is like a twisted dagger.
Give it to someone,
Whether or not they know they have it,
You give them the power
To carve cruel designs
Into your aching heart.
The cuts cannot be healed;
Forever will they scar
And bleed when you are alone.
Why do we love others
When we know it can cause pain?
Love is like a soft ray of sunshine.
Receive it from someone,
Whether or not the day is gray,
It will light up your whole world;
While frosty sorrows melt
And clouded wounds heal,
A smile plays around your lips
For the first time since
The numb of winter’s night.
Why don’t we love others
When we know it can bring joy?
Sometimes I would write prose passages instead of poems. One January day in school, our English teacher assigned yet another free-write session in our journals. It hadn’t snowed yet that winter, and I desperately longed for those tiny frozen crystals to fall from the sky. Being a visual person, the image of a lone evergreen surrounded by snow came to me.
“Over the windy hills, between the snowy mountains, a forlorn fir tree stands.”
Thoughts ran through my mind about the life of a fir tree, I continued to write.
“It is small and vulnerable to the wind and creatures. Despite the pressing odds it stands straight.”
I needed to elaborate so people would understand the difficulties of the life of a fir tree, a life they would take for granted as being simple. I needed to show them otherwise.
“Wind will tear at it furiously, trying to succeed in its mission to yank the fir tree from its place. Deer gnaw its bark, a bear sharpens its claws against its small trunk, yet the fir tree endures this foul treatment.”
There’s more troubles than that, I thought to myself, the snowy image returns to me and I wrote it down. I’d already decided I needed to start changing the beat of this passage. I began to rescue the fir tree.
“Snowdrifts consume it, but it does not lose hope; the Sun melts it away. It remains evergreen, a symbol of hope.”
Throughout my writing a parallel had begun to form in my mind. With the time remaining, my pencil scratched furiously as it attempted to express my thoughts.
“We as Christians can compare our lives to the fir tree: the Devil will try to uproot our faith, people close to us can mistreat us to make our lives harder, scratching at our bark. Problems can consume us, but God can melt them away.”
Finally, I decide to conclude the way I had begun, a favorite tactic of mine in short prose passages.
“Why should we face these any different from the fir tree that dwells over the windy hills, between the snowy mountains?”
Done. Without initially meaning to I’d written a short parable. A smile crept across my lips as I silently read it to myself. When my teacher’s voice rang out across the room, calling time on our free-write session, I secretly and silently hoped today would be one of the days we were given the opportunity to read what we’d written to the class. I was too shy to volunteer to share my writings unless I felt they were good enough. However, my disappointment only fell upon me in a small wave when the teacher did not ask for volunteers that day and chose instead to start the lesson. It never occurred to me to think much of it, and within a few weeks I’d entirely forgotten I’d even written the passage.
When you forget the past, sometimes the person who can surprise you the most is yourself. I’d written “As the Evergreen" at age fourteen, “A Definition of Love” at age fifteen, and “Pandora’s Box” at age seventeen. I’ve written countless other poems and prose passages besides those three, not all of them so brilliant. I frequently look back on my work… and it shocks me.
The feelings described in “Pandora’s Box” portrays the upside-down, inside-out world that falls down around you after something you took for a sure thing disappears, the final stanza emphasizing that at the end of the chaos there is hope. However, it wasn’t until after I’d gone through the experience myself (as I later did) that I realized the full depth and accuracy of what I’d written a year before its occurrence. “A Definition of Love” was dramatically based on imagination. So imagine my surprise when I went back and read it after encountering much deeper feelings than a crush, and after the pain of seeing a friend experience what I had written three years before. The accuracy astounded me.
The most shocking are the passages in which I instilled my strong sense of morality, including “As the Evergreen.” My morality and worldview had been worn down, jaded by experiences I could hardly dream of four years ago. As I mentioned above, I had forgotten the passage entirely until reviewing the freshman school journal I’d kept all this time. It was like discovering a piece of my innocence, the purity and simplicity of my perspective, encased in a graphite amber to be preserved through the years.
I’ve come to realize my poems, if kept, are often hidden messages to my future self, much like the freshman letter you write to yourself and don’t open until senior year. They preserve my personality, my thoughts, my perspectives, etc. I realize now that a poem like “A Definition of Love” was based off of so small a feeling, yet I managed to dramatize it to portray such a drastic experience. It reminds me of the proportion to which I can take the little things. Rereading it reminds me to maintain a sense of the bigger picture. What seems so distressing an ordeal now, can become as trivial as my high school crush in the future. Not all of my poems speak to me in such a way as the three I’ve picked; but I continue to write, I continue to grow, I continue to experience, and I continue to look back and learn from my past writings.