Guest post by Nylda Dieppa
On Learning to Write Poetry
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
It’s happened so often that I’ve felt that I would die if I didn’t write, that it has become a habit of mine to (forgive my crassness) vomit onto the page all the noxious substances that are eating me up as well as all the exhilarating feelings that would intoxicate me. Too often in the last six or seven years I had no physical or mental energy to write. I had all kinds of rare and undiagnosable symptoms that robbed me of the ability to do much more than survive. I did the best I could to mask my suffering and be cheerful and I managed to stay alive with the help of my little dog, my children and grandchildren, and a couple of loving and supportive healthcare professionals. Now that I feel better, I write as if my life depended on it, because it does.
This is what it looks like on the page:
Write me a love poem, you say.
A love poem?
Is there any other kind?
There must be love somewhere
In order to write a poem
Full of emotion and insight.
To touch someone’s soul
With words that are full of anguish
Or pleasure, pride, or joy.
Why would I put two words together
If I had nothing to say
About my soul or yours or ours?
Why would you linger on them,
Tasting the terror, watching the wind,
Hearing the hope, memorizing the music
If there was no love in them
To touch your heart
With my soul’s blood?
I don’t think I can tell anyone how to write poetry. I can’t tell a sonnet from a haiku (I exaggerate, but it’s almost that bad) but I can hear the music when simple words are placed just so. I can see incredible vistas when metaphors and similes show up dressed in rough natural fibers or sweetly naked. I can smell the aromas of heart-felt emotions at the birth of a baby, a beloved husband’s betrayal, or my brother’s murder. I can feel the tingling of my skin when a handsome stranger looks kindly and deeply into my aging eyes, and I can taste the bitter tears of my sexually abused child.
All of life is poetry to me!
How did I learn that? Aside from advanced literature courses in high school and college, both in English and Spanish, and a few years of French classes, I’ve never taken formal academic writing courses. I have pursued writing workshops in all kinds of settings. I was part of a writers group that pushed me to grow in my craft as well as defend my right to honor my Puerto Rican heritage through my stories and lavish use of exclamation points. But most of all, the best and biggest influence on my writing has been my voracious appetite for reading since I was three years old. Not to mention six and a half decades of telling the paper, napkin, or computer the deep thoughts and feelings I was terrified to share with the world.
After a lifetime of burying my feelings to protect those of people around me, I recognize that life without honest, soul-searching, heart-wrenching poetry is not worth the price of mere existence. All I know is that if you have the sensibility to appreciate a well-crafted sentence and the courage to confront your demons, you can write poetry that will touch people’s hearts.