Poetry With Neil


If you need me, me and Neil will be

Hanging out with the Dream King

–Tori Amos “Tear in my Hand”

(Name changed for privacy. Neil jumped to mind, as in the skilled story-weaver Neil Gaiman of the Sandman series. Neil Gaiman of Stardust, Neverwhere, American Gods, and Coraline. Neil could represent the poetry instructor, but also the realm of poetry itself.)

It has been a long time—seven years, almost a decade—since I’ve sat in a classroom among other writers, alternating between reading and listening, accepting and assigning critiques. Almost a decade, but I still remember the comfort of walking into that classroom with an unmistakable feeling of passing through some protective membrane and drifting into a warm place of palpable, nourishing energy. It has also been almost a decade since I’ve seen my poems make their way into the lives of others from their place within a journal or a newspaper, connected to the world by typeface on a page. Admittedly, I stopped making the effort to share during a period when many things in my life changed and everything was left to be redefined within the new parameters, including writing. It seemed I had walked out of one world and I wasn’t sure how to begin again in a new one: What were the rules? Since when had I even cared so much about rules, or what might be considered typical or acceptable on societal terms?

I work in a setting that offers substance abuse services to youth through the 12-Step philosophy. Each day I work with teenagers from various backgrounds who are being supported through various crises. Each teenager I work with is a unique soul, and each one is a good soul. Each one also has his or her own style of creativity, and writing is included among their education repertoire for allowing their creative energy to make its way into the world as they journey along the healing process.

Recently, I checked the clipboard at work and noticed “Poetry with Neil” on the day’s schedule. The poetry session would be held in the classroom, where the kids spend weekday mornings and afternoons working on school credits. Although I was excited when the volunteer poetry instructor showed up and the kids circled around to read poems they’d written during the week, I wasn’t expecting the same sense of comfort and being within the right realm that I’d experienced during my time in the Writer’s Workshop for a BFA program. It was a replicated experience though, from the sense of enveloped comfort right down to the additional bliss (and, let’s be honest, writing staple) of a mug of coffee in my hands.

It was a rush—rush of emotions and adrenaline, rush of love and passion and peacefulness. I felt somewhere inside of me an extra push at my conscious mind from some more subconscious place of dream and driving-force telling me that it’s time I stop inhibiting myself from the  realm I used to be so devoted to, that poetic realm of magic and reality coexisting. Now, inhabit. Stop inhibiting and start to inhabit that realm once again.

Many things have changed. One aspect of my difficulties with writing was something as small as a name. Written down, a name is relatively small in regards to the amount of space it occupies on a paper, in a room, in the world. A name as applicable to defining something—an object, a person, place or thing—becomes a larger implication. My publications were under the name I’d had when married; this name no longer linked to my identity. Not only had my name changed an aspect of how I’m defined, but I wasn’t certain how much of my identity was being reshaped and redefined as a single mother, as a woman who had just left the house she’d been spending her adult life in as mother and wife, as a person who would forevermore be judged by the word divorce according to different peoples’ different perceptions. Writing, which I had since childhood claimed as a basic fact of my identity, was suddenly as surreal as everything else.

Almost a decade later, I’ve been resettled. I’ve acclimated. It took time. It took good experiences and bad, it took warmth and light and health and using my voice when needed. As I sat in the classroom and listened to the kids I work with—each one within somewhat damaged circumstances for the moment, but ultimately more strongly resilient, and good and creative, and bright and full of possibilities— as they read and analyzed each others’ poetry, I considered more closely than I had in years the importance of the voice that poetry carries. It is important to those of us writing through that voice, and important to those who are listening. We all take different routes to understanding and healing, and for those of us who connect with the creative forces channeled through artistic expression, poetry is a world that is safe to us, where we can both rest and recharge. It is also an abundant place of magic, with its language of metaphor able to express truth in lyrical dreamscape—simply another form of reality translated through altered language.

In the field of psychology, there is Art Therapy, recognized for its calming, expressive, and healing elements. In the belief system and field of lightworking, poets are considered lightworkers, bringing light into the world through their form of artistic expression. However you choose to define creativity, whatever concepts you believe in, art has its healing properties. When we are involved in the creative process of art we are involved in a form of improving wellbeing for ourselves and others.

In that classroom, with time for the time existing somewhere else while we collected thoughts and energy within the poetic realm, I made myself a promise. I will visit this realm more often once again, I will listen to its voice, translate. I won’t lose contact or lose sight of its purpose in my life. I will continue to be inspired, inspired by the others I’m seeing let their own poetry step out into the world (including my daughter, including other beautiful writers I’ve come across on writing blogs and at poetry readings for authors’ tours), and inspired by the constant nudging at my psyche by both the richly sensual world and the richly mysterious ethereal planes, each insisting they be further explored.

It will be a slow start, most likely, but I’m fine with that. Quite simply, I don’t want to continue looking back at the progress, past progress, I’d made in writing and wistfully wonder to myself how much more I could have done—most often, there’s no reason not to find out how much more we can do.

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