The page gives us permission.
Poetry should forge a path to freedom. It is a vehicle for personal truth; a means of reaching into the deep recesses of ourselves to give voice to what wants to be heard, or to the energies that engorge us with thought and contemplation.
Too often we fear liberating the poetry within us because of an overwhelming concern for how it will be received, or how it will shape perceptions of us—whether the poetry is steeped in realism or fantasy. But that cannot be the concern if we ware to be our best poetic selves. The work of the poet is to find within themselves the courage to confess. James Baldwin stated,
“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story, to vomit the anguish up.”
I don’t know if there’s a greater truth than this regarding art. I am particularly drawn to his mention of survival. It’s about more than just endurance as a recognized presence in an artist community, it’s about personal and internal survival. The unspoken poem feeds on us. The spoken poem, however, gives us the nourishment we need to feed ourselves and others. Survival, then, is a confessional act for everyone, and poetry is an expression of love; a repudiation of a kind of narcissism that wants to diminish us with concerns for ourselves and our safety only. Poetry bears no concern for safety, except the safety that emerges in the aftermath of us ridding ourselves of the violence of internal struggle; that too is safety, and we are sometimes unsafe within our own selves, threatened by our refusal to acknowledge our difficulties.
Poetry destroys the fantasies people construct about who we are and where we have been. It calls to account all of the weary stereotypes and imagined lives we have been saddled with. It liberates our backs to carry ourselves rather than the burdens of other people’s ideas and expectations. Poetry creeps out of the corners of the whole person, not the safe spots of the fragmented individual, too frightened of the less than savory parts of themselves to deal. It is through expression of the beauty of our complexity—the transformation of our ugly and uncanny selves to sublime form—that we find meaning in the trajectories of our experience and the misunderstood nuances of our person. But these are things we must summon the courage to approach; and rather than speaking forcefully to them with projections, or forcing them to conform to the expectations of a poem we imagine will best express them in a so-called acceptable manner, we let them speak to us about us; we let them teach us who we are. It is as surgical as it is compositional, as revelatory as it is performative.
I say all these things to remind you, the only permission you need to confess, to poet, is the page. Movement against the will of the poems that live inside you will only result in frustration and the production of a watered down version of the poetic self that misses the point of it all. Poetry is about human experience; it is an opportunity to thread us all together in our humanity in a way that says we are all mostly the same, and where we are not, there are still opportunities for us to understand one another and unite in the art of our joys, struggles, and our clamoring to understand life.