I didn’t want my path to be different. I wanted normal. As a undergrad in English, I thought that meant I’d get a master’s in literature, become a poetry professor at a college, publish in literary journals and live happily ever after with poetry at the center of my life.
Now, in my mid-fifties, I’m so grateful the path I thought I wanted kept rejecting me. I didn’t get into the literature programs. Instead, I entered an English Language and Linguistics program and learned about the science of language. Burned out, I didn’t go on for a PhD. Instead, I fell in love and moved to a mountaintop above a tiny resort town almost three hours from the nearest college. I got a job as a journalist and a substitute teacher, and I wrote poems for pleasure. Then I was a magazine editor who wrote poems for pleasure. Then I was an organic fruit grower who wrote poems for pleasure. Then a social worker for early childhood who … wrote poems for pleasure.
The short of it: poetry stayed with me as a passion. I took classes, taught classes, made lots of poetry friends, organized poetry festivals, wrote grants to bring poets into the schools, sent poems to journals where they were mostly rejected, and I kept reading and writing poems.
The practice of writing poems every day began in the peach-growing era. It was a dare—could I do it for thirty days? I doubted it. That was February, 2006. Eighteen years later, I still write daily poems. And the most remarkable thing has happened. I’m not a professor. I don’t work at a college. But I live happily with poetry at the center of my life.
In addition to teaching, writing, performing and speaking, I have a podcast on creative process (Emerging From) and a phone app with a daily poem and prompt (The Poetic Path on Ritual). But most importantly, all those years of meeting a blank page with curiosity, wonder, vulnerability, and trust—even when writing about very difficult thing—have informed the way I meet the world.
Never did I understand the value of this gift more than when my teenage son, Finn, took his life in August 2021. I believe all those years of practicing how to show up are what allow me to want to stay present and open in the most difficult chapter of my life.
Poetry is more path than page. It’s the practice of being human. It’s an ongoing bidding to explore what Rilke calls our “innerness.” It’s an invitation to do the work of the heart, to be wrestled by paradox, to orient ourselves again and again and again to the everything that is—even that which we’d rather say no to. Every time we sit down to a blank page, it teaches us something of spaciousness. Of possibility. Of who we really are.