Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in Philosophy to an M.D. to a S.A.H.M., poet and writer by 30. Today, she spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it’s serious) about life, parenting, marriage, zombies, culture, religion and politics with special appearances by aliens, alienation and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She has a muse of a husband and two young kids who are Southern but not rude. Yet.
I am a poet. I began writing at 14 after I got into fairly big and mostly public trouble. I lived in a small town so everyone knew and everyone talked.
I was so angry at my classmates, my family, my teachers and my friends for forgetting all the good, decent things I had said and done over the years and I was too young to understand the moment would pass. Sinking into humiliation and rage, I wrote my first poem.
Lest anyone think I am a poetry protegé, my first poem not only spoke of my feelings, but I also chose cool fonts for different words so my first poem looked a lot like a ransom note from a deranged lunatic who hated gossip. (It’s amazing how easily writing exposed us.)
I loved the moment the poem was finished. I read and reread the shape of the words expressing my angst like nothing else had. I was in love.
I went on to write more poems with fewer fonts. I wrote in iambic pentameter and in run-on sentences. I wrote and wrote and wrote and read and read and read. Any creative opportunity I had to express my thoughts on a novel or a moment in history, I turned in poetry.
I devoured e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud and every poetry anthology I could find. I liked the rule-breakers. I liked the crazies. Mostly, I liked being overwhelmed by their ability to tell a novel in three words.
But no one becomes a poet. In college, I majored in political philosophy, which was outlandish enough. I went on to medical school and fantasized about the doctor-poet while drowning in knowledge (the body has 639 skeletal muscles!). But in my last year of medical school, after a 5-year hiatus, I took my experiences of watching children die and diseases mocked, and I wrote poetry.
I also got pregnant with my first child and chose to stay home with him. Lost in cloth diapers and lack of sleep, I stopped writing again, but 15 months into parenting, I knew I could not be Alex-The-Mom and Alex-The-Doctors-Wife all the time so I signed up for a poetry class.
My teacher thought I had the gift for words although I struggled with being less literal. I wanted people to understand my poems without an English teacher, but I also was afraid of pushing past my comfort zone. I didn’t want depth for the sake of depth. Or I didn’t think I did.
I wrote with earnest and submitted poems to publications and for every acceptance (2) there were 10 rejections (20). I did a local poetry reading. I got pregnant again and with it went my poetry.
Poems take space and quiet and can shadow a writer for days and weeks before emerging. But I did not have the hours to wrestle with a word. I did not have the energy to force a phrase. The shadows of my poems receded into living.
My life was bright and dull without writing so I began blogging. I wanted a place to publicly and daily practice writing. I even use some of my poetry in my blog posts — not by blogging poems because they are different genres for me — in my styling. I use periods like line breaks when I want my readers to stop at a thought. To be surprised where I take them next. I use italics to denote speech and thoughts. I break the rules and create rhythms.
Writing is gift but also a muscle. Today, my brain can think in 400 word stories but not in poems. I don’t hear the calling of the words to describe a leaf/brown and drifting in the summer sun/too early to be a part/of the beauty of fall/too late to be tended back to life. Instead, I hear my children running to catch the leaf. I feel my immorality in the leaf. I take a picture of my tripping over a root to avoid picking up the leaf.
Poetry is gut work. Painful. Elusive. Frightening. It is drama without the drama. All our histories are found in poems, but I am out of practice. I am lazy. I am afraid.
Of rejection. Of mediocrity. Of time.
But I cannot stay away forever even if “forever” is a dreaded word in poetry.
I miss seeing the world through the long, half-naked lens that is a poem.
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