As poets we choose levels of revelation.
I can tell you about my trip to Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'Keeffe painted her magnificent skulls, that I walked the labyrinth with my friend, each pass looking up to see the orange striated mountain as if for the first time, about the women I went with, or I can dig into my feelings and be starkly revealing.
How the air felt overly thin, how I resented the dryness of the southwest, missed my fecund Oregon. I can tell you that I was lonely in ways I had not thought possible. That although I’d chosen years ago to be open to life, it felt like salt in my mouth.
And at the same time I laughed like I was in middle school, was silly and honest, and was taken up in the flow of friendship. We drank wine, ate incredible food, snacked, walked, and we started a new press under the influence of wine . . .
Both experiences are true. But what do I choose to tell you in my poem?
This is the dilemma all writers face. Cheryl Strayed can write from that honest place, dark and light not far apart. Terry Tempest Williams too, although her Mormonness allows for some distancing. She often lets science and nature speak for her, through her. I never doubt her honesty.
I too have a Mormon background; how hard it is to be starkly honest, to say what I think instead of what I think someone would hear without judgment. My hope is that the generations after me have less and less reason to pretend. My hope for myself is for revelation, for the see-through quality I seek in other writers. Not self-protection, but self-revelation.
I have a stack of poetry books nearby, all written by women, one from England, the rest from the US . . . I opened one, read a few lines and put it down. The poet was philosophical; telling me what she did/thought/experienced in a way that spoke to my head, not my heart. I'm weary of intellectualism and cleverness. I can skirt around it, but what I want is for the heart to be touched.
a skipped beat
a rapid pulse
a little sweat above the lip
we expect it of love
I expect it of poetry
Maurya Simon is a poet who has moved me, made me sit up and consider. She speaks from that place of revelation . . . reminding me of Rilke, her language rich with vulnerability and God and the body.
and there was a clarity I'd never seen before
on your face, your fine bones relinquishing, at last,
our worldly hold upon you--as you entered
that doorway through which you'd never return.
It closed behind you with a barren chill, raising
the hairs on our arms, part of us dying with you...
from Dearest Mother, found in Poemeleon, A Journal of Poetry
In order to write this poem, the author had to go deep, she had to be willing to express something personal and particular. She breaks our hearts, because first hers was broken. What we choose to tell, how we choose to tell it, says everything about us as writers and as people. My hope is that I too can break hearts, even though first my own must be broken.