Sometime the art of using poetry therapy to help yourself is more about reading, going outside yourself to read other people's work than it is about writing. In the past, I've played a balancing act with the amount of reading and writing I was doing. If my writing was really on a roll and going strong, I might not read so much. Reading the work of others would sometimes make me second guess my own writing.
But you know, sometime the writing really goes awry! I'll look down and in the places where I had been going strong, really great pieces of writing falling from my fingertips, metaphors coming from some higher power-- in those places, suddenly, there is all this whining. Some alternate form of my very being has emerged and is writing all this gobbelty gock and feeling sorry for herself and just all those "whoa is me" stories flowing from every pen in the house. It's awful. And when it starts happening in my poetry, chances are that it's happening in all my writing-- journals, fiction, and non-fiction alike. Just pitiful, icky stuff everywhere.
Recently while writing in my online diary, I had begun that awful pattern. Other journal writers were reading my works and leaving very kind notes, trying to inspire me, trying to support me. And then one day there was a note from a wonderful woman asking if I had ever read the diaries, letters, and poetry of the women who lived thru the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, WWII. She thought maybe I would identify with those women in some way, find ideas there, some support, and maybe some perspective on my own situation. She was very nice and never once wrote to tell me to snap out of it (smile).
And so this idea sparked something interesting for me. I first read Victor Villasenor's book "Rain Of Gold"-- mostly I picked this first because my book club was reading it. But quickly I realized that this was the kind of book the other journal writer had mentioned. It was the story of two families who survive the Mexican Revolution, starvation, immigration, prejudices, and more. The women in this story, Dona Guadalupe and Dona Margarita, both lose children, husbands, homes, land, fortunes, country, everything. And yet these amazing women survive, keep what's left of their families together, and raise children who love and admire them. And regardless of how much they lose, they keep moving forward, working with whatever is at hand. This is not to say they didn't grieve, but they were in much worse situations that I face-- they kept moving forward or faced dying just as those around them were. They survived.
My next adventure was a book on tape, four 40 minute tapes of the story of Gerda Weissman Klein from her memoir titled "All But My Life." She was aptly named "Weissman"-- wise man-- wise woman, indeed. I cannot begin to tell you how many times my husband and I shed tears as we listed to Gerda's story. She lost her entire family in WWII and spent three years in German work camps. Again, everything -- gone. Family, land, house, belongings, friends, country, fortunes -- all gone. She weighed 68 pounds when they checked her into the allied hospital just after liberation. She kept moving, working with whatever was at hand. She lived. She had children and grandchildren. She wrote a stunning memoir. She survived.
Now, I'm reading "Women of Valor: The Struggle Against the Great Depression as Told in Their Own Life Stories" which includes writing from well-known and "unknown" women alike. I'm re-viewing the tapes of the Ken Burns Jazz series that aired on PBS. The stories of these extraordinary-ordinary people floor me. I don't know that they provide answers to my current situation, but they give me perspective. They give me role models. They give me the will to keep going-- afterall, not only did they each survive their individual situations, they've also survived till this very day because here I am telling you about them. Death is nothing. Surviving is the hard work. And even when we are exhausted and whiny and at our lowest self pity-ing stages, these stories and poems and songs can remind us how to do the work of surviving. Just like those who went before us.
I offer the following as examples of the kind of writing that finally re-surfaces after I go outside myself in order to figure ways to say what is inside myself:
Charlie your death date
BeBop, Jazz, the music of Bird,
Your wife Chan shared with us
Bird, if you could only know
Today it's my turn,
After your death, Bird,
For Louie Who Died July 1971
You defined the music
You were married to
One man recalled
They said you smoke marijuana
The Last Time They Saw Each Other
There was somethin'
And after the set
Haiku For Louie
modest house in Queens
Tanka for Duke
Don't matter to Duke
When the whining starts or when you find you are unsatisfied with your work, maybe just maybe, it's time to go outside yourself in order to spark the real story of what's happening inside you. Read on, read strong, my friends! :)
Miracles to you!