A Life of Poetry
Updated: Apr 1
I am honored to write this series of articles for National Poetry Month. The poem has been a constant thread in my life since I was 10 years old. It shapes the way I look at the world and how I connect with others. I can’t imagine a life without it. Each transition of a writer's life is filled with the opportunity to fall deeper in love with poetry, changing everything from their personal life to the invisible impact it can have on others. This is my journey.
At 10 years old, on a rainy summer day, I found a dusty shoebox in my father’s apartment. Inside were the poems he’d written after returning from Viet Nam. My parents divorced by the time I was 4 years old, and my father and I were estranged for much of my life. He was a quiet man and as a young girl I was eager to know him. It was a daunting task.
In school, teachers taught poetry from a time in history I couldn’t relate to and it was stuffy. The poems were full of rhyme and words that didn’t set my heart on fire. I couldn’t connect to their meaning. But the poems in the shoe box were rife with politics and a lackluster return home from the war, everyday people on the streets, the inner workings of nature, and the world from my father’s perspective. There were love poems to my mother and one he wrote the day after I was born. It outlined the person who I’d become. He wasn’t wrong.
Until that time, I hadn’t considered him in this way — a shaper of words, a man collecting slices of life, a thinker. I read his poems several times and then typed them out so I’d have a copy for myself. That rainy day changed my life. I could have laid around watching TV, but I realized the possibility that I could mold words that would say something about me and my movement in the world.
My childhood was dysfunctional, and I suffered traumas, physical and emotional. Every day, the only soft place for me to land was on the page. I created poems in secret and found solace in a world where I could exert some control. I’ve had no formal training in the craft of poetry other than the small generic units built into the English curriculum, which featured the same old works shared year after year. There had to be something more to it for me. I was looking for the raw emotion I found in my father’s poems. My heart craved a deeper connection, not only to my work, but with the poems of others. It was a fire I couldn’t put out.
By the time I made it to college, I found the first iteration of my voice when I met other poets on campus that would further influence my poetry. Belonging to a group of people my age and finding a common ground through sharing poems was thrilling to me and gave me a deeper confidence to share more of myself in the poetry. I’d never been brave enough to let anyone see my work before, not even my father. It’s hard to know as a young writer if anyone would be interested in what you have to say. Society discounts young people’s opinions and views of the world because they lack experience.
Poetry acted as a life preserver. It kept my head above water in the turbulent seas of an ever changing world where I was living alone and navigating life without a safety net. These contemporaries gave me the courage to explore different sides of myself — to crack open my imagination, to roam outside the concreteness of my life, and to attempt experimental forms with words. These tools came in handy as I traveled across the country, landing in Seattle. Going from a rural to urban environment was a shock to the system, and soon I recognized the disparity of living in a metropolis — homelessness, poverty, racism, and invisibility. It infused itself into my poetry. I walked the streets observing life that happened in the shadows, and I learned to love the idea of capturing this existence. It has continued to be an idea I return to through my body of work.
Many of the themes you find in contemporary poetry have to do with struggle and the writer’s path through it on the road to resolution or healing. Poetry, at its core, is existential. Writers are looking to answer the questions that constantly develop as they gain more knowledge. It is a discovery of the world, but also of the self inside the world. Poetry has the power to transport each of us into a writer’s distinct view of an event or feeling. It is a place to find common ground. It can be a place where arguments start. But what is undeniable is that it makes us feel something.
There have only been two times in my writing career where poetry has gone dark for me and that was early motherhood and deep grief. Most of my life, I’d written poetry through the struggles I encountered. The poems may not have been very good, but they were out of my heart and onto the page, leaving me lighter than when I started. The all-encompassing nature of motherhood was unexpected for me. I had grand visions of simultaneously creating work and being able to parent, but you add a full-time nursing job and the pure unadulterated exhaustion that comes from guiding a new human in the world, and writing is the last thing on your mind. It was sleep that wooed me. Just sleep. I wrote some poems during that time, but not at the pace I had been used to. This change was a growing period, a time spent creating something different.
Grief was another beast entirely. I lost my parents and a dozen other people in my life over a five-year period. It was an unending melancholy from which poetry did not seem to lift me up as it had always done. I was still writing through this darkness, but only with prompts and maybe only twice a year. My mother’s birthday was in April, as is poetry month, and after her passing I told myself I would absolutely write a poem a day for her. When my father passed a year later, I began writing a poem a day in his birth month as well. It was the only way I could still feel connected to them and this world that had set me adrift like a lost kite.
What I gained from that experience was a love of prompt writing and I’ve become adept at it. I’ve found new and interesting ways to transform my world view by using prompts to make myself have a deeper connection with the world around me instead of just inside my head. I am learning to let the words of other poets elevate my approach to writing poetry and find new ways to communicate my experience.
Join me next week as I take you through the art of prompt writing and how it can change the landscape of a poem.
about the author
Aleathia Drehmer lives in Corning. She will share her thoughts on the art of poetry throughout April to celebrate National Poetry Month. Learn more about her at www.aleathiadrehmer.com.