A Poet's Beginning Series:
I could never pinpoint just one thing. Just one reason that poetry saved me and gave me a reason to keep going. It’s a million reasons compiled into moments spanning over a decade of words and pages and tears and laughs and hugs—a conglomerate of memories I can’t even fully recall, but I can only start from the beginning.
I want to thank Mrs. Wooten for giving us the assignment of a poetry book in eighth grade. I still have the poems written in my journal from then, but I have long since lost the small baby blue construction paper booklet labeled “My Poetry Book” in a rudimentary attempt at calligraphy. We were assigned different poems from limerick to narrative. I ate it all up. I had always dreamed of becoming a novelist (and it’s still alive), but there was something about the short form of poetry that was more freeing than any format I had ever encountered.
You mean to say that I was able to create an entire story about how I was feeling in just one page? Half a page? A 3 line poem with only 17 syllables in all?
I’ve talked about it before, but I didn’t have the most open dialogue with anyone growing up, because, of course, I was sheltered and I didn’t have access to the resources that would have helped me with my mental health. After testing the waters with a poetry book filled with a story of a haunted music box, a girl running in the woods, and wanting to stop being a wallflower, I was hooked. Here are some excerpts:
I frequented Barnes & Noble before, but when I bought my first poetry journal, I felt the rush of having something that was only mine. A golden book with red cherry blossoms, bound by a magnetic clasp. First, I copied down my first poems from my poetry book. Then I just started . . . writing.
And I didn’t stop. I put these poems on my Tumblr for all the world to see, I guess. In reality, I only got a handful of likes, and notes, most of which were from my closest friends. I have long lost access to it because I forgot to log in, Tumblr locked me out, and Yahoo deleted the email it was connected to. I feel a deep loss over how I don’t have any way to look over my old messages, especially the ones from strangers who told me I wasn’t alone in my depressive thoughts, and part of me is mad at myself for not paying attention to my accounts and losing access to them. But as my editor Perri put it, maybe I should see that as growth. It’s good that I no longer felt the need to hide my writing away on my Tumblr and that I didn’t need to reread those messages from strangers.
Poetry gave me an outlet.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would write.
Whenever I felt sad, I would write.
Whenever I would be wronged by my partner at the time–and I must admit my track record is awful–I would write.
But it was never just the words that helped. The catharsis, reflection, and self-awareness I gained from writing everything down gave me the opportunity to know myself in a way that no one else knew me. I can look at past pages and see the feelings I had. I can unlock any point of my life just by reading a page and I’m so grateful to be able to know myself as well as I do, but I spent my high school years hiding my work. I shared with friends at times and made metaphor-ridden poems in school or submitted them to competitions. Once I got to college, I knew I wanted a writing community. I had never had one before, and I’ve only seen them in movies like Dead Poets Society. My only experience with spoken word was competing in Poetry Out Loud and watching Sarah Kay, Phil Kaye, or Joshua Bennett on YouTube.
In the fall of my first year at university, I typed “writing club UCSB” into my search bar. At the time, I felt crippling anxiety over being in a new place. New room, new home, new everything. I had left all my friends in Germany to go to UC Santa Barbara. I had gotten into two schools: UCSB and UW, where my then-partner went to. I chose UCSB, where I had no one. So naturally, I was in turmoil and felt guilt over choosing me, but that’s another story. I needed a space to vent and people like me who expressed their feelings outwardly.
I found a link for Literature Club, of course, but I read enough literature on my own. Underneath that in the search, was the UCSB Poets’ Club Facebook page.
UCSB Poet's Club is dedicated to building radical imaginations through language. We wish to explore the power of words and what we can accomplish by using them. Spoken-word, verse, prose, and all other forms of literature are welcome.
Everyone is invited. Please feel free to tell your friends.
WE WANT TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.
“Radical imaginations” and “we want to hear what you have to say” are phrases that resonated and still stick to me to this day. I have even repeated the latter to my fellow blog writers. Unfortunately, it was the end of the quarter when I looked, so I had to wait for Winter quarter. But, on a Thursday at 7 pm in South Hall 2617, I walked into the meeting along with one of my writer friends.
When we walked in, everyone was sitting around an oblong table that took up the length of the room, and there were an assortment of writing tools in front of everyone–notebooks, journals, phones, and laptops. My friend and I walked to the back of the room and sat at the opposite side of the head of the table. The President and Founder, Frankie, introduced himself and gave us a little rundown of how the meeting will go. Check-in question, prompt, writing time, and optional sharing. I think the check-in was something along the lines of name, major, and some philosophical question about words I don’t remember. By the time we went around the circle, it was my friend’s turn and he . . . well . . . his ears turned a fiery red and he said, “S-sorry, I don’t do this,” and he rushed out of the room.
And we all just sat there stunned. When I recovered, I said, “Well uh, that was ____ and I’m Mei-Mei…” and so it went. Looking back, it’s hilarious to think about, but it’s also okay that he wasn’t ready for that kind of vulnerability.
We broke into groups. Each of us had been given a piece of paper with a word on it and we had to make a group poem. It was one of the best icebreakers I’d ever been given. Everyone was talking and laughing and asking each other questions. When it came to the sharing portion, we were all amazed at what we could make in 20 minutes. I didn’t stop going for all four years of college.
I made my greatest friends there, some of whom I talk to every week now. I have cried until I laughed and laughed until I cried in Poets’ Club. I stood on top of the table in 2617 once a week, sharing my heart and mind and making the English classes the next day wonder where the footprints came fore. There was always something magical about being in that circle, showing the most human parts of ourselves to each other. We were open to others and to adventure, recording everything along the way.
There’s one early memory that I cherish. In 2017, we went to Our Mic, hosted by Beau Sia and Lady Basco, and we rented a van to LA. There was something so special about driving ourselves to our own field trip. Poets on the road, sharing snacks and stories. Some of us had our names pulled to perform in the open mic. It had an experimental setup, where round one was a traditional name draw open mic. In round two, performances were remixed. Lady Basco took notes on everyone’s performances and paired them together. My friend’s “can you please just punch me in the face” was paired with another girl’s love song, alternating between Alison’s sweet loving tune and Jackie’s insistence for her crush to punch her square in the jaw. My standalone poem became a conversation with another man’s poem, alternating between my angry scorn and his apologetic words. A woman with stage fright sang offstage rather than underneath the spotlight as audience members went up and did an interpretive group dance. It is truly a wonder to be on stage alone, but groundbreaking to reimagine your art with others.
At the end of the day, at a little past midnight, we reached such a horrible standstill in LA traffic that we were able to get out and stretch. I passed my phone around, only giving them a space with their names. We wrote this poem together:
Jason: One went out and started to shout (Jason get back in here!)
Sam: One stayed in and continued to win
Blair: One went for fresh air and to check out his hair
Frankie: One manned the tunes and resisted the urge to moon
Jackie: One sat in her seat, trying to sleep, wishing she had a [veggie] burger to eat
Andy: One sat anxiously in sweat trying to recharge after a social day
Mariana: one wished she knew how to drive a motorcycle. Freedom in my hair.
Eduardo: One sat thinking about how pretty it would be like if brake lights were multi-colored (rainbow colors)
Rosa: one hung her head, but aches aside, happy and proud to know people so profound that even when traffic bound midnight struck- they were all still smiling and alive.
Mei-Mei: The last collected so that we don't forget it
I don’t think I would be alive today if I hadn’t found my people. If I hadn’t been open to finding a space for myself to live, instead of writing about my depression in my room by myself. I took a leap of faith in searching for a group. Sometimes we’re not ready and we’ll bolt out of the room, but what if you stay? What if it works out? What if you find people who get you? I can’t explain the feeling, but I can show you with these poems:
About the Author
Mei-Mei has worn many hats since joining LYF. Executive Assistant, Event Manager, Editor-in-Chief, but before anything, she is a human who loves to write and make art. She graduated from UC, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English and a minor in German. She was the President of UCSB Poets' Club. She has traveled to 12 countries and counting, feeling lucky and cursed as an Army brat. In 2019, she moved for the 9th time from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, where she put her love for writing, performing, advocating for mental health, and building communities into the Love Yourself Foundation.