I was lucky to be raised in a house with too many books to fit on the shelves. Lucky that my mother worked in a bookstore when I was in elementary school—a place I remember as vividly as my childhood home, even though it closed years ago. That my homeschool curriculum left room for me to read a book in a day, or write strange little novels for weeks at a time instead of studying.
It wasn’t until high school that I realized just how lucky I was. When the magic of stories gave way to something even more valuable to me—the chemical reactions between language and emotion that I found in poetry.
I took a British literature course in my junior year, which used portions of a text called Sound and Sense as the curriculum for a poetry module. Only a handful of chapters were assigned, but from the first lesson, I was so enamored with the process of dissecting poems and identifying craft elements that I completed the entire book, answering countless analysis questions and over a dozen essay prompts in the process. I was hungry to learn what made the poems work—and why they worked so well on me.
I still remember how haunted I was by the images I found in poems like Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room.” The music of Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song.” How every lowercase line Lucille Clifton etched on the page seemed louder than some entire novels. Poetry became more than meter I couldn’t quite grasp, or dense blocks of antiquated phrasings. It became voice, vision, a birthing.
And it led me to writing my own poems. Small offerings in private notebooks and a Tumblr blog, at first. Later, creative excavations in my college classes: from an independent study of poetic influences in creative nonfiction; to a dissection of how I write about race from my position as a white poet during a course on racial literacy; to a cento composed of lines from an assigned novel, seeking to understand a narrator’s voice from the inside out.
It even infiltrates my writing in other genres, like fiction—transforming not only my sentences, but the tones of my stories and the beats of my characters’ lives. Poetry continues to expand my attention to language, and by extension, everything else I create.
It has made me more than a writer, though. I want to stoke that fire in someone else like me (or, even better, someone entirely unlike me.)
Poetry gave me language to unearth interior dimensions of my self—finding joy in queerness, acceptance and advocacy in chronic illness. Things I once preferred to keep in dark soil, infertile and untouched, now brought into the light.
And it gave me confidence to excavate intellectual curiosities; to see education as possibility, instead of simply a task. Now that I understand how empowering language like this can be, I want to help others cultivate their own creative lens—their own new ways of seeing and articulating their worlds.
I was lucky that poetry found its way to me. However, I know creative discovery and empowerment is not a given for everyone, especially in rural communities like mine. But I still believe the fire is always there. For that reason, I am endlessly grateful to be joining the Sundress Publications team, and to see first-hand how they connect with their authors’ visions and help carry them into the world.
Laurel Elizabeth is a writing tutor and success coach for Kennebec Valley Community College’s TRIO program, where she recently earned an associate degree in liberal arts. Additionally, she is a graduate of Vassar College’s Exploring Transfer summer program, and aims to begin a BA in English this fall. An emerging writer and aspiring English teacher, she has a special interest in the role of creative empowerment in education.
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