Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Whistling in the Dark

A recent post by tearful dishwasher got me thinking about why we create art. And by art, I mean painting, songwriting, poetry, sculpture, etc.

Our species seems to have the need to create for purposes other than to fulfull strict utilitarian needs. Otherwise why the beautiful handwoven blankets of the Navajo weavers? The decorative shards archeologists find from ancient clay bowls? Cave drawings?

Why do I write poetry? It doesn't pay the bills. In fact, the sum total of money I have made with my poetry has been less than $150 in 25+ years. And $100 of that was a college prize. I'm not an English professor and I'm not in an MFA program--in my 'mundane' life, I am a physical therapist. I write about pain in clinical language. A number on a scale of zero to ten. Other people's pain, other people's limitations, all perfectly quantified and lifeless on the page.

In my secret life--in my heart of hearts--I am a poet. A Poet.

How corny is it to say that writing poetry is as necessary to me as breathing?

Tearful Dishwasher talks about art as coming from and transforming pain. (And if you don't know his blog, I highly recommend it. His writing is desperately beautiful, incisive, and painfully honest.)

For me, poetry (all art, probably) is like whistling in the dark.

When I was a little girl, I was terrified of our basement. Whenever I had to go down there at night, I would turn all the lights in the house on and sing as I was walking down the stairs.

I can't turn all the lights in the world on when I'm scared or confused. I could sing, but my voice is not what it once was. I write. I write to make sense of what frightens me. To take my fear and pull it outside of myself. Then I can examine it, walk all around it, sniff it, come to recognize it as something separate from me.

If I couldn't write, I would be trapped in the basement, my heart pounding as the only lightbulb winked out.

Whistling in the dark.

Can you hear me?


  1. For me, writing a poem is a little bit of immortality - it's something that will last long after I'm gone, and I like that about it.

  2. Twitches sort of beat me to it, but for me anything artistic I do - drawing, quilting, writing, photography - it's all about leaving a piece of myself behind and hoping those pieces make the world a little brighter. It's about hoping my time on earth weighs in on the positive side of the scale and I leave my corner of it a little better than it would have been without me, not make things worse.

    And yep...I hear you.