At 2:05 a.m., during the mid-nineties, my unconscious roused me awake with strange words, We travel on the dice of the mind.
I’d been asleep for a couple of hours and in no mood to pay attention. I rolled over, only to be awakened again at 3:05; this time, the tone was more insistent. I told myself to remember and went back to sleep. When I was again roused at 4:05, I felt like my unconscious was in chains, clanging for release. I muttered, all right…all right, slid into my slippers and went to my desk. At the computer, a part of me jumped onto the screen. Line after line, disjointed, my unconscious tumbled down the page. The words made no sense, yet they changed me.
I followed my unconscious for months, rose every morning very early to write lines about my work, my family, the state of the world. In the past, as a teen, I had written poetry as an expression of both gladness and angst, the need to put to paper all the emotions I could not hold. Those poems, like childhood, had been left behind. After six months of writing, I realized I needed to know more, to appreciate and shape what I was writing, to attend workshops with other aspiring writers.
I am grateful for luck, the good fortune and timing that lead me to two summers at the Bennington College Summer writing workshops and Mary Oliver as my first poetry teacher. Mary’s strait-to-the-point approach affirmed my voice, engendered courage. At our first meeting, she said, you have passion.
I am grateful to Mary for her willingness to put aside time to run beside me, to cull over my fledgling poems, to write in longhand in the margins, to mentor me. I was, at the time, a full time therapist, an advise-giver, with facile use of explanatory language. On an early poem, she wrote, see how you are using the slightly intellectual, stilted words and adjectives to do the work.
Mary affirmed the discipline of “showing up for the muse,” the belief that without the discipline of effort, the struggle to put words on the page, to shape the words into a poem, to rework and revise, to write lyrically, until what is on the page seems right and true.
April is poetry month! I am grateful for poetry—the writing of, the reading of. I had many vicarious mentors—Stanley Kunitz, who addressed love and grief with such splendor and heart, whom I adopted, early on, as my “poetry grandfather.” There were others: Komunyakaa, Yevtushenko, Li-Young Lee, Gary Snider, Carolyn Forche, Joy Harjo, Naomi Shihab Nye and Gregory Orr, whose memoir, The Blessing, inspired me to leap to memoir.
I now have friends and colleagues who are devoted poets: Kathleen Aguero, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Meg Kearney, the Director of the Solstice Creative Writing Program, who, to this day, although I graduated as a nonfiction writer, reminds me over and over that, at heart, I am a poet. I am grateful, Meg.