There’s something to be said for the lasting impact of childhood fascination. When I was fifteen, my fascination led me to the purchase of my first poetry collection.
Kay Ryan’s The Best of It sat on my lap in my local Barnes & Nobel, cracked open as I scanned through the pages. I still don’t remember exactly what I was looking for when I picked up her collection. I think I had wanted something new—some revolutionary concept I had not found in the marketable fiction I was the target of. I wanted something different yet familiar; I wanted something I didn’t know how to want. And in traveling down that pathway, Ryan’s collection was just the beginning.
Before this, I hadn’t invested much of my own time into poetry. Instead, I associated the genre with the fond memories I had with my grandmother when she would read Emily Dickinson to me. But even then, I didn’t enjoy Dickinson for her poems so much as the time I could spend together with my grandmother, lying in her bedroom and listening to her read in the Tennessee heat. I was too intimidated by the line breaks and condensed language to read poetry on my own, even if I found it striking. I would sit, soaking up the sun and watching shadows of trees on the walls, and think, what makes poetry so different? I couldn’t put my intrigue into words.
At fifteen, I still didn’t have the answer. I don’t remember if I was even conscious of that same question when I picked up Ryan’s collection. I was simply struck by the want of something new, the denied childhood closure of understanding that I still hadn’t found. I spent a week reading through her collection before something clicked and my spiral into poetry began.
Ryan led into Mary Oliver who led into Jamaica Kincaid, leading then into other contemporary poets like Franny Choi and Kaveh Akbar. I spent the rest of high school consuming any collections I could get my hands on; I thrived off of local second-hand bookshops and their mixed collections of renown and local poets. I read so much I felt I had to start writing just to have a place to put it all down.
At eighteen, I entered college and became involved in my local literary community. I joined literary clubs and attended public readings. I got involved with book festivals to promote others as well as present my own work; I took a poetry workshop class that changed my life for the better.
I started submitting to journals and applying to open editor positions for magazines. Currently, I co-run a poetry club and work as a poetry editor for Waymark Literary Magazine, a magazine I joined with my friends. My fascination with poetry as a child, the intimidation I felt from the genre, manifested into one of my favorite things. The opportunities and the friends I have gained from my impulsive decision to pick up Kay Ryan’s book is rooted in my unanswered childhood fascination.
At the very beginning of 2020—years after I had picked up my copy of The Best of It—I would get the privilege of attending one of Kaveh Akbar’s lectures, during which my childhood question would once again come up: What makes poetry so different? I would realize, through the opportunities and events that had led me here, that there is no single, solid answer. That the “difference” I had always associated with the genre was just another way of alienating an art form that seeks to understand as well as communicate.
Poetry is not something that begs a consistent understanding of itself but rather a genre that thrives off its ability to empathize and to feel, a form that is remarkable because it surpasses the barriers of language instead of adhering to them. I would listen, learn, and speak with the poets around me, and I would find that poetry is not a method of intimidation but a gift of communication attempting to bridge the ever-present gap between each of us.
This gift has led me down many wonderful pathways, but I am especially thankful to have been directed to this one: where I am more than happy to work for Sundress Publications and to contribute back to the community that has kindly given so much to me.
Mary Sims is an undergraduate writer working toward her BA in English at Kennesaw State University. She is currently a poetry editor for Waymark Literary Magazine and a former student editor for the Atlanta based magazine Muse/A. Her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, and more. She can often be found filling her shelves with poetry collections, roaming antique stores, or laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.