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.

One Magical Poetry Trio: Clay, Robins, Limon

In the very beginning of April 2012, my lovely artist friend, Kimberly, invited me to a poetry reading in Omaha. I had no information on who the poets were and neither asked Kimberly or researched the event online to learn about the evening’s guests. As someone with a loving connection to the world of poetry–that magical, but also logical, world of symbol and myth and metaphor and emotion created by the language of poetry–I knew it didn’t matter who the writers were, that what they were bringing to their readers was likely to have earned its place in the wider world considering they were now on a book tour together, driving through various states with a supply of their books riding along and ready to enter the lives of others.

We arrived at the reading just as the first poet was taking his place in front of the microphone, and as gracefully as possible stuffed ourselves through the small crowd to get to two open chairs near the front. I love the moment of suspense, that lively energy, that swirls around in the silence just before a writer takes a breath and begins reading from his or her work: What words will show up, what stories and ideas? Where will it take your mind and emotions, where will it all hit you hardest? Also, will I love, really love, the fact that I took the time to be here?

I would never consider sitting in on any writer’s reading a waste of my time, but I do love it when the world they offer with their work invites me in wholly and lets me stay awhile.

We sat through the readings given by Adam Clay, Michael Robins, and Ada Limon, and not only did I love the time I had taken to be there, but I also felt like bowing a little and kissing Kimberly’s hand in gratitude for calling me that evening and saying, simply, “You should check it out!”

If you are a reader or writer of poetry, if you can’t help having a natural soul-connection to the world poems create and reside in, please, if you buy anything new from this artform, make it works by Clay, Robins, and Limon if you haven’t already. And hopefully you will feel a similar connection to and admiration for their work.

Admittedly, the personal connection was there for me at the start, with the first poem mentioning Chicago (a city all three poets have a connection to). I had returned from Chicago a couple of weeks before, still full of the adventure of journeying on the train, still full of the colors and horizon of the city, even more full of love for my dear soulmate and therefore full also with a sense of misery being in our different cities again, unaware he would soon be moving back. That first poem made me happy, it made me sad. It spoke to me in a way it wouldn’t have if I had just returned from any other city in the world under different circumstances. The specific personal connection got my attention, and I loved the poem all the more for it, but the rest of the poems kept that connection with their honest, graceful, unpretentious yet powerful storytelling.

The night had a sense of beauty and magic and energy; not only did the writers’ poems all stand strong on their own, but the writers’ poems getting together in the same space intensified the reading. Whoever was insightful enough to put these three writers together–whether an instructor or an agent or the writers themselves–has a great instinct and should be thanked for bringing such a perfect trio together, dreaming up that they should tour around an area of this world with their own worlds of words.

Ada Limon

Adam Clay

Michael Robins