This post is dedicated to my sister, Kristin and my friends Michelle & Robin who were all kind enough in the past few weeks to ask for one.
Took a little break from the kitchen to visit Chicago this weekend. Ate some great food (none of which I cooked) but most importantly...started wanting to write again:
From what I have heard and read, it is not uncommon to have a crisis of faith when someone close to you dies. I know I have seen this among some of my family members. And when my mother died, I know I lost my faith almost entirely. The loss of my mother four years ago was punctuated by the immediate loss of my sister-in-law just two weeks later. Then, I turned my back completely on this so-called divine.
For me, "the divine" has always been Poetry. I knew this/ felt this long before I could articulate it. When I began to articulate it, I was in high school and discovering the poetry of ee cummings, Anne sexton and other canonized writers while dancing in clubs all weekend to hip-hop groups like Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Monie Love, Ice Cube. For me, it was all Capital-P-Poetry. When I began to depend on the notion of Poetry as God, I was neck-deep in dealing with all of the bad habits called coping mechanisms I had accumulated throughout my life. Poetry as Higher Power was no longer an abstract academic concept in my mind. I accepted that Poetry has always been the thread that connected me to life, sometimes frayed and thin, but always always there for me. Even through the sexual abuse. Even through my father's mental illness. Even through my divorce. Even through all the other million painful experiences that there are no legal or clinical names for. I survived it all because of Poetry.
But in the summer of 2009, I let go of that thread. I continued to write -- even completed an entire manuscript dealing with the loss of my mother -- but my faith in Poetry was not the same. I sought out other art forms. I turned my back on all art completely. I convinced myself that a community college english teacher who lives in the middle of a cornfield in Michigan has no business attempting to seek Art or Poetry. I found a lot of folks from the coasts who agreed with me (but to be fair, some who didn't).
Except, I had to do my job and even though I no longer believed in poetry, I had plenty of students and knew plenty of community members who did. So, I started a community poetry slam in Saginaw, Michigan. I didn't believe poetry had anything for me anymore. I didn't think poetry even noticed me anymore. But I thought maybe poetry could be something for the audience, for the students, for these community members. So, I brought it to them the best I could. I brought them up on stage with all the reverence I could muster. I offered up myself as their Slam Master which always felt like a responsibility but silly enough to not take too seriously.
While continuing to do my job, I found out about Louder Than A Bomb, a youth poetry program and festival in Chicago -- the largest youth poetry festival, they say, in the world. I wrote a grant to research this spoken word phenomenon and see if it was plausible to bring it back to Saginaw.
All the while, I did not do this because I believed in Poetry for myself anymore. That thread lay limp on the floor, always lying quietly just behind my heel, not even whispering my name anymore. Silent. Dead.
Then, through attending LTAB and other spoken word events, I became a witness. I became a witness to the miracle of youth surviving their painful, beautiful, crazy, ugly, desperate, unfair stories strictly through the forging of those stories into poetry. And these young prophets reminded me I was once saved by Poetry too. These young teachers reminded me I could be saved by Poetry again.
I used to tell all of my classes that I believed Poetry and Writing and Art could save the world (with an emphasis on Poetry ). When I stopped believing in Poetry, I stopped saying this. For a time I came to a place where I believed that nothing could save the world. Nothing. And maybe nothing can. It depends what we mean by saving. What I mean is this: Every single time I see a poet take the stage at LTAB, I watch someone pick up a piece of the world, however small, and save it by lifting it high over the pain and transforming it into Poetry. They don't stop global warming. They don't cure homophobia. They don't stop bullets from breaking into the bodies of children. But, with mere words, they come closer to doing all of these things than any politician, political committee or law-enforcing institution in this country. They do this by listening to and respecting each other. They do this by "crossing the street" to find out what things are like in someone else's neighborhood, someone else's backyard, someone else's family, someone else's head. In this way they create a powerful, enlightened community ready to work together toward understanding and healing.
Poetry can save the world. I've seen it.
This past summer I lost two of my four brothers. This time that thread did not wait still and silent for me to turn around and pick it up. It crept like a vine over my feet, circling my calves and crawling up my knees and then it brought me down to them. It gave me no choice but to see it again. Poetry.
I discovered this Truth on my yoga mat one day, about a month ago, during one of my worst Ashtanga practices ever. I couldn't get into any pose. I couldn't keep my breath steady. Before class my instructor told us to consider whether we are devoted enough to that which we consider Divine. I pinched my body into every position and tried to ignore the storm in my mind. What do I consider Divine? I knew the answer but wanted it to leave me alone. The vine tightened. The thread needled its way under my skin. And I collapsed. I was supposed to be in down dog but I fell back into child's pose. I didn't have another Vinyasa in me. I know, I thought, I know you're there. I know you've always been there. I sobbed quietly trying not to draw the attention of those practicing around me. I realized at that moment that I had abandoned Poetry when my mother died. I realized at that moment that I still believed. That I believe again. In Poetry.
If my re-established conversion was not yet complete, it became complete when I watched Sarah Bruno take the stage last night in the finals bout at LTABU and perform a poem about things people said to her when she was grieving the loss of her father. These were all the same things I have heard. These were all the same aches I have felt these past months and years. When Sarah said the first person who said anything right to her was an LTAB poet because this person told her it was okay to be sad, I knew Poetry was speaking directly to me.
LTAB establishes a community of young people who know beyond every possible doubt that whatever you are is okay, whoever you are is okay, wherever you are from is okay. We are all okay -- even, maybe especially, when we are not okay. By the time Sarah was done there was no chance of me un-smearing my running mascara or turning my back on this divine again. Conversion complete. Born again poet. Amen. Word.
There are not enough words in every language in Babel for me to thank LTAB sufficiently for doing what it does and for bringing me back to the church of Poetry. But I will devote my life to this Divine, more completely than I have ever done before. I will become a servant of Poetry. And I will not let go of this thread again, until my own death, when Poetry brings me home.
Vaya con Dios! [Right, Mama ; )?]