About a month ago I attended a writer’s salon for women writers hosted by Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island, WA. As part of the closing session we could volunteer to read some of our work surrounded by good food, good drink and supportive women writers. I chose to read a poem entitled Always, part of a collection I am working on inspired by platitudes and other methods of disconnection or escape. Afterwards, a fellow writer came up to me and shared that she was incredibly moved by my poem, and then she asked me how long it took me to write it. I thought back to the actual penning of the poem, and described that often a word, or a phrase, or something that may start more as a lyric gets stuck in my head and I mull it around until it demands attention by either creating insomnia or inserting itself in every other thing I have planned. Many times I don’t know if it is going to be a poem, an essay or simply a rambling esoteric assortment of words. In this case, I worked on the poem for a good part of a day before I felt exorcised and could assure myself a good night’s sleep. In the pressure of the moment, I opted to describe the process, but her question has stayed with me ever since.
The truthful answer to her question of “how long did it take to write that poem” would have been: a life time. I was nearing the anniversary of my first daughter’s death, a perennial hard time for me. An innocent recommendation of a song by Kenny Loggins with the title “Always” flashed across my news feed on Facebook and in that random moment, I was hit hard. I was reminded of how much we take for granted, how we naively think we are invincible until we are not, and how we actually think we can make promises that will never be in our control or for some, intention to keep. My grief, loss, the unpredictability of life, and my own shattered innocence were haunting me and so the exorcism began. The poem reflects anger, loss of faith, the inevitable allure of the self-destructive path, and the power of words to both hurt and heal. It took me to a foreign land, where I tried to grasp the restoration of a faith that had all been buried to keep it out of the hands of an enemy that promised to always dominate yet had long ago tired of the game. The poem paid homage to a nephew's suicide that our family continues to grapple with and how it took the words of a poet to create a moment of grace. Imagine, poetry without any false promises.
So, to all of us writers that spend time honing our craft, mimicking the process of others and looking for our holy grail that promises validation, let us remember that perhaps we would be better served to focus on the truth of our own experience rather than the timetable it takes to put it down on paper.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2013