E. P. Tom Sawyer State Park comes alive towards the back. In high school, my friends and I followed the trails past no trespassing signs, hiking away from wide-open soccer fields and into the shade of Kentucky oaks. We smacked at mosquitos and hammocked with owls. We brought lemon meringue pies and spinach salads to picnics. We ranted about Shakespeare plays we had never studied and dreamed of becoming the kind of women who wrote poetry.
I imagined plaid trousers, thick notebooks, round, tortoise shell glasses and the smell of cinnamon. I wanted to stain my fingers with ink and drink out of deep mugs. I dreamed of a life that fit the aesthetic of poetry, where words came easily, because no one told me that writing was supposed to be difficult. When I struggled with language or line breaks or images, I assumed I just didn’t fit the theme and stopped trying.
And then college. My first semester hit like a thick rain, cold and sticky, and in an effort to make friends I started to explore the creative side of my university. I found Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” taped to an office door, the campus literary magazine, a curly haired creative writing professor who told me to “say yes to yourself” and encouraged me to go outside again. I started to explore my rural college town. I found a wooden bridge and a blonde dog without tags. Cross country trails coated in my first college blizzard. February blooms that looked like bird beaks.
When everything in my new life was difficult and lonely, the difficult work of writing became much more inviting. I wrote my first lyric essay and typed page after page of creative non-fiction, twisting language in a way that, eventually, became poetic. This form gave me grace; instead of worrying about line breaks or stanzas, I spit up metaphors that were delightfully nonsensical. Late autumn leaves were pirate’s currency, chipped and roughed, hanging from a past season and unsure how to fall. I was learning how to create beautiful things, but also how to communicate with my readers and with myself.
Over the last two and a half years of consistently writing and studying this craft, I’ve learned that the poetic life isn’t just an aesthetic. Instead, it means choosing to live as Mary Oliver taught me, letting “the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” It’s applying to an internship that, frankly, I never thought I’d actually get. I’m thrilled to have been selected for the editorial internship at Sundress Publications, and excited to contribute to it.
Every time I visit my hometown, between every semester and summer job, for every fall and spring break where I have nowhere better to go, I always travel back to Tom Sawyer Park. These days, I mostly visit alone. My high school girls are scattered with their Ivy Leagues and husbands. My precious college friends don’t seem to fit, like square pegs in a round hole or a word you can feel but can’t remember. Instead, I bring my gray blue tote bag, a Sharpie s-gel pen, and my fake leather journal that I’ve kept since last summer. I bring Mary Oliver and Ada Limón and Wendell Berry and Frank X Walker and, if I’m feeling romantic, Dorothy Wordsworth. I sit on thick, low hanging tree branches and admire lichen with a pen in my hand. I have become the kind of woman who writes poetry.
Hailey Small is based in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she writes lyric prose and watches gingko leaves turn soft each November. Hailey is a junior at Asbury University, working towards a BA in English and History. She enjoys working in Asbury’s writing center, where she partners with remedial English students to make academia and creative writing more accessible. Most recently, Hailey was published in The Asbury Review, where she also serves as the creative non-fiction editor, and anthrowcircus.com.
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