I went to a workshop given by poets, Jerry Wellik and Francis Kazemek. The conference was entitled “Survive and Thrive”; the intent was to show how the arts can assist in healing. For each time slot set aside for workshops, there was at least one that dealt with writing. These were the ones I selected and not one let me down.
One of the poets, Jerry, looked and sounded the part, bearded, soft spoken, humble, the other not so much. He introduced himself as Frank. I heard a thick Chicago accent that he later verified. Somehow poetry should not be spoken by someone who pronounces “hat” as “hyat”. But it is the voice of my childhood and I recognized it immediately. I would have placed him behind the counter at a meat market wearing a bloody apron. But I guess even butchers can be poets. “I doubt that I will ever see a poem as tasty as a t-bone.”
Jerry talked about what he called “unfinished business” in our lives. These are the stories that keep returning to us from our past. It is often the story that carries much of our emotional baggage. I knew exactly what he was talking about. There are certain life experiences from my childhood that come to mind at the oddest times. Sometimes I can see the reason why it might have come up, other times I have no clue. The memory just rises like an air bubble out of a fish’s mouth. Shaping this memory into a poem can facilitate healing, Jerry said. “Writing gives space to deal with an experience,” he said. He called it narrative therapy and said that the writing externalizes the event. “The event,” he told us, “is what we are carrying on this trip we are taking.” These experiences can be pleasant or painful memories, but they are significant because they keep returning. We want people to hear us and we need to listen to them to help them.
To demonstrate this last point, our small group of six was broken down into pairs and we were given seven minutes each, one at a time, to share a memory that seems to keep returning as we travel through life. I told the story of my experience of seeing photographs of the Holocaust in an encyclopedia when I was a child. My partner told a story of a favorite aunt she had when she was a child. After the exercise we were instructed to write a poem, either about our memory or our partner’s memory. There is always a story behind a poem, we were told, even if you aren’t privy to that story as you read the words
I don’t consider myself a poet, though once in a while when I write, my words start lining themselves up on a page in a chaotic way and verbs start falling off the page, adjectives start repeating themselves and nouns begin to invite their like-minded friends. Maybe I need to pay more attention when that happens. Perhaps something from my past is coming up for air.