Finding the Poetry in the Prose
“Each of us is a citadel of metaphors.”
I believe it was the Jungian psychologist, James Hillman, who wrote this, and it’s as good a definition of a human life as I know.
We are in many aggregates of words. Conversations, dreams, asides, and rants. Temper tantrums. Self display.
For many of us, the archive of our long trails of utterance is our journals. At some point, what began as a vest-pocket monograph ends up a footlocker worth of pages. Like a sand mandala, we don’t know what we are crafting, until one day we pause with an afternoon at our disposal, and open to the first page of the first one again.
Were we that young? That keen with observations, or numb with grief? Was the world that full of summer’s primary colors and August’s thunderstorms? Did we really say that to our English professor in front of the whole class? He is gone now, but the shocking moment still hangs there, in the journal, for you to remember. And what about the time you came home to a plate of chocolate-covered fruits and a kitchen that looked like it had been graffiti bombed, a project your husband and young son had undertaken Valentine’s surprise?
I have sporadically vowed to reread my life as told to my journals. Three years ago, I actually began to do so in earnest. But I stopped after fewer than three volumes. It was too much – of what, you may well ask? Too much angst and slog, too little poetry. I decided that raw hindsight was much sweeter – and pithier.
But Janet Shea, a Maine poet recently introduced to me, did not flinch as I did.
A deeply courageous woman, Janet woke one morning, and wondered what would happen to her trove of precious journals. Gone to dust, the fantasy that her “papers” would be of value to any beyond her immediate family. But on this particular day, Janet took even closer aim. What did she want to leave her children and close friends?
Would it be the rough drafts of her daily musings as ferried children to the dentist, walked the beach, wondered about the bathing suits for the summer trip to Orlando and mentally made her food lists? Or might it not be something more distilled and more enduring?
Janet began to reread, from the beginning, and this process became at once a kind of prayer, a review, and a leave-taking. She read and prayed, and looked across the days and months of her life, and as she did so, she allowed its poetry to arise from the pages.
As she read, she wrote – allowing the metaphors of her life’s mandala to emerge from the raw matter of her years. The images and feelings and meaning began to emerge, clear and true.
As she set down these poems, she said goodbye to the pages so painstakingly and lovingly created.
Finished, she had a collection, Prayers of a Roadside Contemplative, and a pile of raw journals that she fed to a fire. The burnt sacrifice.
She printed and bound it, and decided to offer it to the world beyond her small family circle. You can find it on Amazon, if you like.
Janet offers a goad to the poetry waiting inside all of us, in the baskets of leftover yarn, the scrambled recipes, and library books and travel photos, the children’s art work and our own bundles of correspondence.
Where is your poetry, waiting to be rediscovered? Where, the metaphors in your fortresses of prose just waiting to take wing from the good fire of transformation?