Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Silence

Sometimes I get the feeling that friends and family think I'm being a little perverse by not writing poetry anymore. We live in an odd time, when Using One's Talents is an imperative, not a choice.

I have plenty of excuses for not writing poetry. First there were the demands of work, then of raising two small children under two. Then another child, years of no sleep, homeschooling, an illness. It's true these things have a way of using all your available strength and ingenuity at the same time as they reduce the time you have to daydream, to let the words and the images simmer.

It's true that after Lucy's birth I found myself without word or image, found myself unable to shape language to describe either the terror or the transformation. Instead I could 'see' a poem as blocks of colour and shape that, lacking an artist's skills, remained untranslated.

It's true that in the exhaustion of motherhood I lost all my nouns ( though mysteriously, adjectives and verbs remain ). Lucy has often heard me tell of the time I asked her, still a toddler, what the silvery, round thing she ate breakfast with was called. Just yesterday I described a book to Arwen as 'that rectangular thing you read.'

It was hard at first. I felt in mourning for it. Less for the writing and more for the idea of being a poet. I was no-one special without it. I dreamt about it and woke up grieving. That I should write, tattooed itself on the inside of my brain.

Then, like most things, it slowly got easier. Life became more spacious without that 'should'. In my own silence there was time to read and when I read, I saw that much of what I might possibly wish to say myself in poetry had been said - beautifully, deeply, with care and great technique by others - and silence became a form of homage and of humility.

With silence came a feeling of being comfortable with being ordinary, of not having to claim for oneself a title. ( 'Mother' is different to 'Poet', its success lies in its eventual redundancy; fate can terminate it. It's nothing to cling to. )

And now silence gives me another gift - being able to make the distinction between wanting to be a good poet, and wanting to write good poetry. I was lazy when I was a girl, back when I was a poet. My teacher warned me of it. He said I would need to learn to work at the work.

And I am learning it, but I had to learn it through this other life first. I had to be quiet year upon year. And I had to choose it.

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