DOING THE WORK
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I’m afraid.” —Audre Lorde
I’m sitting at my home desk in a new city, overlooking a pool where a few screaming children and their bored parents while away the summer hours. I am anxious to the point of paralysis and exhaustion, taking little TV breaks and dips in the pool to keep myself from hyperventilating. Anxiety manifests in my heartbeat, in short hiccups of breath, in quick tears, in circularly irrational thinking, and in wildly imaginative fears. It’s been like this for a few years, on and off, and acutely so this week.
But I rediscovered something nice in May—during what could have been one of the most hectic and fear-inducing months on record, a culmination of several years of one or two particular hardships, including my husband’s chronic illness and our decision to move—when I decided to write a poem every day with the email group the Grind. This maybe doesn’t sound like a huge deal. I mean, you’re probably thinking, You’re a poet. You should be writing poems every day. And you’re right, except that sometimes, often, life doesn’t work that way for me.
In my twenties and thirties I had a good reading and writing practice, but over the last few years I’ve been sporadic, hectic—a result of, well, a few traumas and setbacks that threw me. I also co-run a children’s book publishing company, and we’re launching our young adult imprint this year—sometimes life makes you juggle, and while I feel lucky to have things I love to keep in the air, sometimes, too, life makes you a little bitter about perceived failures and shitty circumstances. I wasn’t finding joy in writing poems, definitely not cultivating discipline, or acknowledging the power inherent in serving my vision of the world (the one where my words join a chorus moving mountains, the one where I’m writing poems every day).
In May, though, I found myself writing these wildly confessional poems that I’d never considered writing before. I found a more conversational tone, losing some of the artifice of language but keeping, I hope, some of the music and rhythm of poetry. I went a little more surreal than usual in a few poems. I let myself be dumb and also quite smart. I played language games like the one where you spread five or six books of poetry around you—in bed of course—and randomly choose one word per book to work into each line of the poem you’re working on, rotating through the books several times. Or a revision technique, one of my favorites (I think it came from the poet Sarah Maclay), where you write your poem backward one line at a time and find a whole new poem.
In short, I experimented, and in these experiments I found some of the inspiration that I’d lost. I had fun in a way I haven’t had fun in a long time. I even have a handful of keepers. And while I’m not naïve enough to think that if everyone wrote poetry there would be no anxiety in the world, or that remembering what you love is a panacea for all suffering, I am pretty ready to admit that my own anxiety isn’t quite so overwhelming when I’m putting dedicated time and energy into poems as sustenance—and finding my inspiration again along the way.
ALEXIS ORGERA is the author of two books of poetry, How Like Foreign Objects and Dust Jacket. Her poems and nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and magazines and have been nominated several times for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes. Her collection of poems, Hard Left, was a 2019 National Poetry Series finalist. Her memoir-in-fragments, Head Case, is forthcoming next year.