It used to bother me that the poetry is gone. I remember that electric feeling, the words flowing together in moments of powerful emotion, naturally falling into rhythm and rhyme schemes on their own. I remember the teen angst expressed in picturesque (if cliché) metaphors of volcanoes and oceans, walls and towers, broken glass, rain, and leaves floating away. I remember articulating the broken hearts of friends lost, trust broken, and boys that didn’t like me back. I remember the identity confusion, wondering who saw the real me and who simply wanted to see the facade of the valedictorian prom queen. Words helped me. Poetry gave expression and meaning to my emotions.
No one read most of my poetry. At least, not that I know of. Maybe my mom slipped the journals off the shelves in my old bedroom after I left for college. Maybe she flipped through the pages, wondering about the stories behind the words of pain and anger. Because that’s when I wrote. All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow powerful feeling, right? At least, that’s what Wordsworth tells us, and I was a big enough literature nerd to believe him even then. So when that passionate feeling hit, I wrote. For some reason, spontaneous happy feelings didn’t overflow into poetry, but the aching, stabbing confusions of the teen years did. (Mom, if you have read those poems, please know those journals tell a skewed story.) I didn’t write when I was happy, so only the negative feelings were documented in words.
But, oh, how those words could flow! Even in the ache of the moment, I found solace in the beauty of those articulations of emotions. Images and metaphors came to mind unbidden at the most random times. I would jot down notes in class or wake up in the middle of the night to write. I never tried to write poetry. If I sat down and tried to write without inspiration, I could come up with something with meter and rhyme, but the verses felt clunky and formulaic, instead of the dance of words I knew good poetry should be.
But when the words danced for me, sometimes it was so beautiful I could barely breathe as I wrote. Sometimes the poems were short and quickly completed. Other times I scribbled over and over that notebook paper, covering every inch, both sides, with writing. I honed each syllable until I knew the power had been unlocked. Then I carefully copied the final version into my journal, taking more care with my handwriting than I ever did in school. I filled at least five journals that way. I never showed those journals to anyone, but I had romantic ideas that, like Emily Dickinson, some day after I was gone, someone would discover my poems and see their value.
That was when I was a teenager. Then I grew older, graduated high school, and took on the world as an adult. Slowly, the angst faded. I discovered requited love, sparing me the pain of heartbreak. I developed an identity as a good friend, logical thinker, and English “snob” (as we English majors called ourselves), which subdued the confusion of identity crisis. I found fulfillment in my career and fell in love with teaching teens. I traveled the nation with my husband, opening my eyes to a life far bigger than the world of my teen years. As life improved and happiness became the norm, the need for spontaneous overflows of feeling receded. I didn’t need the poetry anymore, so the poetic words of inspiration went away.
I still write. I still keep a notebook around all the time. But now the handwriting fills the entire line; complete sentences form paragraphs of prose instead the verses of poetry. I write to process the world around me. I take notes on classrooms. I list pros and cons of life decisions. I commit rambling self-analyses. But it’s all factual and analytic, not the vivid alliteration and metered assonance of my teen years. That used to bother me. I missed the lightning strikes of inspiration, the beautiful metaphors that gave image to my feelings. I thought I was something less without the poetry, but then I discovered the value of prose.
As I have grown up and matured, the need for words has changed, but is still very real. As a teen, I wrote for myself, a private catharsis hidden from the rest of the world. Now my writing serves a different purpose, a purpose that wouldn’t be well-served through angst-ridden poetry. I am a nonfiction writer that finds her outlet through blogging. I have discovered that this is more than an OK substitute for writing poetry; it’s wonderful, purposeful, and possibility-filled.
Prose has power, too. It has its own dance of words. Prose makes us laugh and cry, sometimes both at the same time. Prose tells stories and forms arguments. Prose brings clarity, draws attention to issues, and inspires action. I found voice and venue for my words through prose in a way I never found in poetry. Nobody read my poetry, but people are reading my prose. And that’s pretty darn cool.