Sylvia on the Phone ---I woke up today thinking “Sylvia Plath had the right idea. She left a pretty interesting legacy; A couple of kids, a bunch of famous poems, And she went out on her own terms.” Depression is like an ex-lover I can't get rid of, She shares custody of my brain, Owning at least some part of every day. Anxiety is her jealous new fling-- Anxiety keeps thinking I want to take Depression back, She calls Depression all the time, whining about the time I’m taking up, bombarding me with text messages that I can’t ignore. I’d be happy with Depression gone forever. This never ending threesome with no climax is exhausting; Keeps me up all night, and demands my attention all day. So I fill the prescriptions, And swallow the tablets, And talk the talk… Trying to ignore Anxiety’s text messages And Depression’s phone calls. Mark the texts as Spam and let the calls go to voicemail, So I can stick around and be here to answer the real ones. -Erika Grumet
I remember writing my first poem that wasn’t something I had to write for school. I was ten. The Challenger space shuttle had just exploded, and there was so much sadness around. I was still trying to sort out my own grief over losing my grandmother and my great aunt, and I wrote a poem about death. I kept it pinned to the bulletin board in my bedroom for many years, the shaggy edges of a page torn from a spiral notebook, yellowed and shriveled, the rest of the page pierced by push-pins as parts of the page were covered with other things like concert tickets and photographs. The people I shared it with seemed to like it, and that felt good, but there was something better than the positive feedback. I liked writing it, and that felt better. I felt a sense of relief, as if I were simultaneously acknowledging that it was okay that I was sad, and also releasing some of that sadness.
I wrote my quota of poems as a teenager, poems filled with angst, ennui and nihilism, some were even good enough for the school literary magazine–one even won an award from the National Council of Teachers of English, but in my late teens I stopped writing. When I finally picked it up again more than twenty five years later, I had no plans to write poetry again, but as another poet said, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men. Gang aft agley.” I discovered that I still knew how to write a poem. Poems, for me, however, are even harder to share than other kinds of writing. It took six months of near daily writing, and a lot of coaxing before I became even the slightest bit comfortable calling myself a writer–something that I can now do, although at times (like right now,) it’s difficult. Poet? I’m definitely not there yet.
In spite of everything I thought I wanted to do as a writer, poetry still worked. And not long into my studies with Adam, when I wrote the first poem I showed him, one we’re still workshopping, it felt like a locked door had suddenly given way and I’d fallen through it. Writing, and sharing that poem, was like giving myself permission to write again. Of course everything I’ve written since then isn’t good–some of it is quite terrible; that’s part of the “make mistakes” rule, but I wouldn’t have even been able to let go and write those things if I hadn’t written that poem, that permission slip to myself, to be authentic in the writing I do, whether it’s poetry, fiction, or these blog posts.
I recall a few things about what led me to write the above poem in the late spring or early summer of 2021. I’d read something by or about Ted Hughes (Sylvia Plath’s husband) and I was dealing with the day-to-day chronic illness stuff and was finally getting some relief from an injury that left me essentially in bed, unable to do anything for a month. I’d been talking about confessional poetry with someone, and that person drew comparisons between some work of mine and the work of Sylvia Plath, which left me flustered and bewildered. It’s hard sometimes, to be okay with not being okay, and I think in a way, this poem came from me trying to acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay and it’s also okay to honor the fact that it’s hard sometimes to keep going when you’re not okay.
Poems, as I said earlier, are harder to share than other pieces of writing. Like peek-a-boo slits in clothing, they show pieces of me that might not otherwise be seen unless you’re someone who gets to see me naked. My writing journey started with the single goal to “become a better writer,” and in order to do that, I have to share some work to get feedback, but that work doesn’t have to be seen by anyone beyond my mentor. As Adam and I were workshopping this particular poem, along with two others I’d written, we were also preparing for an open mic poetry night. Public speaking, reading a poem in public, that’s not something I have particular struggles with, but this writing journey has been pushing myself to grow, and it felt like a good next step would be to allow some other people to see (or hear) my work, but in order to do that, it had to be finished. What does “finished” mean, though? I don’t really know. This poem feels finished because someone else (Adam) told me to leave it alone, to let it rest, and that’s what I did for a week or two before the open mic night. It still didn’t feel quite finished before that night though, but I read it anyway, along with another poem, which I felt was more complete at that point, and then I put them both away, with the idea that I’d eventually submit the other poem somewhere, but not really feeling like this one was ready. When I was talking with Adam about inaugural posts for the blog, I was thinking of going back to the memoir-style essays that I’ve been writing, the kinds of things you’ll see if you read the earlier posts, things we’ve re-published from a previous blog, but I was stuck for an idea. I don’t have much wisdom to share about my own writing process–I throw ideas at pages and see what sticks. I always have an abundance of Google Docs open on my screen (seven at the moment, although I’ll probably close two of them) and I make copious use of Google Keep to store ideas, which are often a single line or fragment. I’m not very good at deciding my own work is actually finished, only deciding that it’s “finished enough” that I can show it to someone to get feedback and to begin editing. This poem, which I felt completely unsure about back in August didn’t feel finished. Three months later, now that I’ve picked it up again…it feels finished enough that I’m not looking at it and wanting to change things around–a new word here, a comma there. It feels finished enough that I’m ready to take another step in my writing journey, and put it out there for an unknown, invisible audience to read. So, this is a poem I wrote, the first one I’m sharing with this nameless, faceless internet audience. I hope you like it.
Welcome to the next part of my path and thanks for joining me on it.