The psychology and DNA of poetry writing

Since I was a wee bit one, my mom would read poems to me. She loved William Blake above all else. I’m not too sure Blake’s poetry was readily understood by my young developing brain. However, my mind did gain an appreciation for words, cadence and overall rhythm. Although, I laughingly note that I never did realize I had a bit of a New York Puerto Rican accent, whereby my “TH” sounded like an “F”, until I left the Bronx for a boarding school way up in freezing Massachusetts.  It was criminal that there were times I would crawl and slip and slide my way to an 8am math class to only find that the math building’s doors were frozen shut. Oh, what I would have given to have had text messaging back then.

My mom’s schooling ended right after high school when she went on to work in a garment factory in Brooklyn. Despite what was going on nationally at that time, she barely partook in the women’s movement. When I interviewed her for a political science feminism class, she thought I was talking about things in one of my fantasy short stories. That is when I discovered Bell Hooks and understood a bit more the two worlds I was living in and negotiating. Anyway, my mom recounted her factory work wherein she worked side by side with “Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Irish and Jews.” For her, it was a first-class education in cultural psychology, anthropology and linguistics. The bosses (all males) at the factory were a bit cranky and wouldn’t let the workers (mostly female) sing. The women, though, wanted something to help pass the time. They would gossip and chatter, but that only went so far in entertainment value. Consequently, my mom rhymed. She memorized poems and would recite them. She would then go on to create her own and perform them for her colleagues. She always had a notebook with her.  She was truly poetry in motion. The cadence, musical and incantatory effects were as good as a song helping mitigate the mundaneness of the factory work. Poetry was pure escapism. It worked in the factory line. Her tales enabled me to embellish the images of the Charlie Chaplin classic silent film “Modern Times“.

Everywhere you turned within my mom’s house you would stumble upon books of poetry. She had lived a hard life and those verses were often her life line. Upon her death, I wanted to hold onto a few of those books of hers. Sadly, all I got was one book- the last one she had been reading when she died. As she suffered a stroke, her last book fell with her. It is now in my home office. Occasionally, I flip through it but I can’t bear to read it. Not just yet. On the one year anniversary of her death, I spread her ashes in Austin for it was always her dream to journey to Texas.  Whilst spreading her ashes, I read a few William Blake poems. After which, I left the poems on my office shelf. The poetry in me had been silenced.

This past year has been a difficult one for me in that numerous work challenges, and subsequent corresponding health issues, arose. I don’t shy away from a challenge but they were quite numerous and required me to refocus my skills in a new way. I started the year with great accolades for one of my fresh pressed blogs on in-authenticity and I thus felt a renewed vigor for creative writing. However, by summer time, I was literally in pain from too much work writing. I had to undergo three MRIs and discovered I was claustrophobic.  And the powers that be just did not understand the physical and emotional toll. But being inside the MRI machine made me center and steady myself. I started counting. I started rhyming. The poetry in me had been reawakened.

I began to write poems the second half of this year. Some individuals have noted they are a bit dark and twisted. But all of my poems, I assure you, are built on emotion and necessity.  I felt a grand emotional swelling rising from deep within my chest, cheeks and teeth. I think that in everyday parlance those are referred to as called heartburn, lockjaw and grit. Poetry allowed me to express my anger in a way that wasn’t specific and by which many could relate. I once wrote a poem about my morning trouble in trying to tying my shoelaces but it never came off about that. Said poem came off as about a quest for freedom.  Poetry, in its abstractness, is about the lives of every man and woman.  It’s ironic that poetry is sometimes portrayed as so distant or hard to understand, when it reality it’s your own life breathing into it.  In addition to my quest to air my emotions, as my arm hurt more and more with no diagnosis in sight, I wanted to write but felt unable to write much long form. Thus, short poems while providing me with an emotional outlet and ventilation system, also enabled me to keep writing in spurts pain-free.

I was asked at lunch recently, why write poetry? I’m a research scientist by training  who is supposed to write cookie cutter academic dribble for ten other people who are required to read an assigned article or who are looking to see if they are referenced. Once, an academic reviewer rejected one of my scientific articles saying it “was too beautifully written.”  But scientific analysis and poetry can co-exist in the mind and off the same fingertips. I hope that reviewer soon attains a new understanding of discourse and writing.

This was the year I was meant to take up poetry and channel my mom’s lifelong passion. I wasn’t ready before. Poetry must come from necessity to air and untangle (or maybe even tangle up) emotions. By no means am I a great poet, perhaps not even good. But I’ve got the fight, love and DNA to keep on trying.

20 replies »

  1. “Poetry allowed me to express my anger in a way that wasn’t specific and by which many could relate.” I loved this line!!!! That’s how I feel about writing poetry as well. I can pour out everything that I am feeling with as much specificity (or lack thereof) as I want. At the end I feel purged, lighter, of the feelings that were wanting to come out. Keep on writing! I am glad that you were able to find your poetic voice this year. 😀


    • thank you so much for your comments, words of encouragement and sharing your poetry writing experience. I learn so much by reading the poems you (I like your “Mommy” poem a lot) and others post! Happy 2014!


  2. There must be a universal reason our modern day mind is yearning to write poetry. It would be a shame to live in any generation which had no poets to leave words behind for the next. I get discouraged that my poetic voice did not come forth faster in my life. I wrote as a teen, felt ashamed, and burned it but in burning my poems, I think I just released more power for my new day! Blessings!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully written piece! this really does speak to me on so many levels. Poetry is an expression of the souls highest yearnings;I think the interpretation of a poem will always vary from person to person based on their emotional and spiritual baggage. The poet alone knows all the subtle intricacies and abstract meanings hidden within , which makes it unique amongst all the form of writing. The poet can toy with their readers , leading them to believe one thing, with the real intended interpretations hidden behind the smirk of the poet. The fact that your poetry is built upon such an interesting foundation what with your mothers history just adds to their beauty and depth, keep it up!


    • Thank you so much for your kind words and sweet note. Poetry is quite unique in its abstractness and intricacies. Wishing you best of luck with your own writing adventures in 2014. I will be sure to follow your tales 🙂


  4. Mimi, I really loved reading this. I have been writing poetry since high school and used to perform bck when I was at university. I entered a few poetry competitions at uni but never placed, which I found deeply disappointing if I’m being truly honest. I self-published my anthology at the end of 1991, which back hen is fancy speak for doing it up on the word processor at home and printing out photocopies. In July 1992, I found out they did poetry readings at the Shakespeare Bookshop in Paris and I went in and requested a reading. I don’t think I had any idea just how high profile the bookshop was and certainly knew nothing about its famed proprietor, George Whitman. After a fairly gruff interview with the man, he allowed me to do a solo reading and then asked if I could draw. I had to make up my own poster. He seemed most demanding at the time. I was only 22. I went corporate after my return until poor health refocused my outlook and I seriously pursued writing again. However, parenthood and living out of the big smoke has held me back from doing many poetry readings.
    I find that poetry is how my heart communicates more directly with people beyond myself. So much of what we think and feel gets jammed and clogged up inside and poetry help sto let it out and set us free.
    Best wishes,
    BTW I thought you’d enjoy this post:


  5. I enjoyed this entire post, especially your comment that: “Once, an academic reviewer rejected one of my scientific articles saying it “was too beautifully written.”” When I cut back on my newspaper career in order to devote time for pursuit of a masters’ degree, a requirement was to pass a French for Reading Proficiency course. The final exam for the course counted heavy for translation of a passage. I got a C on the exam, a B on the course. On the exam paper the instructor had written: “you write beautifully, and your accuracy is remarkable…however, you failed to write enough (volume) because (I) relied on the dictionary to find just the ‘right’ words…just do the translation, don’t worry about precision in the words.”
    Another professor commented that I wrote “like a newspaper reporter,” with too much interesting prose.
    A friend whose dissertation dealt with news media coverage of lurid and sensational murders in 17th Century was “too sexy and detail-oriented.” My friends said “they could take the most fascinating topic in the world and turn it into crap.”


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