Every poet has, at some time, experienced those woeful lulls in writing; those days or months or sometimes even years when life seems to offer little poetic inspiration. When we’re so stuck in the banal routine of daily life: driving kids to and from school, making dinner, doing dishes and laundry, the never-ending housework– it can be difficult to find poetry. In these moments, life can feel so ordinary. Sometimes, these lulls seem to have no end in sight. Then, just when you think you’ll never have anything to write about again, the upheaval comes– the poetic floodgates open.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I took a ten year sabbatical from writing. This was, by no means, an intentional sabbatical, but interestingly, this dry-spell happened to coincide with my ten year marriage to my now ex-husband. During that time, I didn’t write one poem, didn’t create one piece of artwork, didn’t really pursue creative endeavors. I fell completely and wholly into the role, as many women do, of service to my family. And while I had always wanted a family of my own, and was happy to be a mother and a wife, I felt a restlessness and emptiness that I couldn’t shake. I tried to quell it by taking up more practical and less time-intensive crafts: knitting, sewing, cake decorating; but nothing ever came close to taming that restlessness. Sometimes I wonder if I had allowed myself time to write, if I might have been able to withstand the doldrums of marriage. At the time, though, writing felt too self-indulgent; there were too many things that needed tending to, and writing was not one of them. At least I didn’t think it was. As a result, I slipped deeper and deeper into this domestic role and soon found myself plagued with an overwhelming desire to escape.
After ten years, I finally did. My marriage came to an end, and in December of 2006, I found myself alone, with two young girls (four and six years old). I was frightened and exhilarated, and that’s when the poetry came.
For the better part of the first year following my divorce, I slept very little. After I put the children to sleep, I’d paint or write long into the small hours of morning. I still had all the chores I’d had when I was married, but now writing seemed more important. The poems just flowed: in the car, in the shower, on my morning walk. I kept little moleskine notebooks everywhere, because there was so much to write. About a year after my divorce, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and there was even more to write. And when she died four years later, I wrote more poetry than I have written in my entire life. Poetry helped me to make sense of things I could not understand: why a husband leaves, why people die, how to keep living when the woman who gave you life is gone. Poetry sees you through those difficult times, helps you regulate your emotions in a way that nothing else can; it restores order in the midst of chaos.
At 46, I’ve finally learned the importance of writing in between traumatic events. When I’m in a lull, I read more: poetry, books on craft, prose. I subscribe to publications like American Poetry Review, Poetry, and Rattle. I often refer back to Jane Hirshfield’s excellent book of essays on craft, The Ten Windows. I listen to podcasts on poetry and writing (KUSP’s Poetry Show is one of my favorites: http://blogs.kusp.org/poetryshow/) which often trigger ideas for poems. Most importantly, I allow myself to write, whether it is poetry or essay, or even fiction. I realize, now, that writing is not a luxury; it is urgent and essential.
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Anna DiMartino is a writer, artist, teacher, and mother. Her writing was recently featured on the Silver Birch Press Series: Learning to Ride, and her poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review (Spring, 2016), The Cancer Poetry Project 2; A Year in Ink, Volume 6 (San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology); Serving House Journal: Issues 8, 10 and 12, Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life, and is forthcoming in Lake Effect and Whale Road Review. She is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing at Pacific University, and will graduate in June of 2016. Visit her website at www.annaodimartino.com.
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