This I Believe

Gail - Nevada City, California
Entered on December 28, 2006

I believe in the power of Poetry to heal us, to help us clarify what we feel, and probably most importantly, to connect us to a deep subconscious pool of common feeling so that we feel part of something larger than ourselves — our sorrow, joy or unrequited love connected to the sorrow, joy and unrequited love of every other person who has lived.

My parents, bus driver and housewife, loved poetry in high school and wrote poems to us kids over the years, often left on our dressers in place of awkward conversations with sullen teenagers. I made them into a book for my mother on her 80th birthday, and I have a treasured video of her reading them to me shortly before she died. They weren’t great poems, but there were in them metaphors that spoke to me in ways regular conversation simply cannot access. She advised me that love is not a big expensive gift but a laundry basket full of small packages that you can open one at a time over a lifetime. She told me that as a baby I was her “china doll” and that later I was a “wind-up toy” standing on my head on the kitchen chairs. Her images gave me myself to keep, as well as an understanding of her love for me.

We humans are richly marinated in image and metaphor. We dream in metaphor, and our subconscious knows things we don’t know we know; for example, when my husband and I made our first investment in the stock market, our knowledge of that realm consisted of little beyond what we must have learned years ago in Government class. And yet I dreamt that night that the kids and I were locked in the bathroom at the “market” and that a “bull” was trying to get at us as we climbed out the window. My subconscious knew what to worry about and offered me a good metaphor.

Certain metaphors work for almost all of us. Birds flying South make us all sad. The scent of roses gives us all pleasure. These are instinctively recognized metaphors for universal feelings. Birds leaving = impending isolation, loneliness. Roses blooming = life in all its fullness.

Although most Americans care little for poetry, perhaps remembering one or two Roald Dahl lines, most people still turn to poetry when asked to say something at a funeral or wedding. On these occasions when we hope to help people share deep feelings surrounding major life transitions, we Google up an appropriate poem, something that, with lyricism and captivating images, evokes the very feeling we are experiencing but weren’t able to articulate. I believe in the power of language to provide us with the relief of identifying and experiencing our own emotions.

Now I write, teach, publish and edit poetry. I try to bring to the world new poems that move and connect us. I have made this passion, second only to my family, the work of my life.