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How Poetry Saved My Life

A Poet's Beginning Series:

I. 30 Prompts For When You "Can't Write Poetry"

II. How Poetry Saved My Life

III. So You Want to Be a Poet?

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 commun