Poetry in the schools, at home, and everywhere in between.
THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Source Poems: "The Well of Grief"
For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life. Welcome, Poetry Friday friends! Tabatha Yeatts -- my "neighbor" here in Maryland -- is hosting all of the Poetry Friday links today. You will find all things poetry at Tabatha's blog, "The Opposite of Indifference."
My dear friend (and another Marylander), poet Ann Bracken is today's guest blogger. This post is for high schoolers and up, as Ann speaks frankly about depression and poetry's role in healing.
Source Poems to Lead
You out of the Darkness
Because it was so unacceptable to me, it often first
appeared as a physical illness before I could recognize its true nature. There
had been stomach pains, severe backaches, pelvic pain, and finally, a migraine
headache that lasted for seven years.
Because I had encountered it so many times during my life, I
knew the migraine pain signified something was very wrong, something in my
soul, not just my body, but my very essence. Depression had descended again,
and this time I did not flee the darkness. Instead, I took poet David Whyte’s words
to heart and “slipped beneath the still surface on the well of grief.”
That surrender to the process of living with depression did
not happen right away. At first I was angry with myself for getting sick again.
I thought I had come so far. I can remember asking my therapist, “What else do
I need to work on? Why can’t I just get it right?”
When your eyes are
the world is tired
When your vision has
no part of the world
can find you.
Luckily I was part of a bi-weekly prayer and mediation group
that provided a refuge -- a non-judgmental place to talk about my fears. It took
a long time and lots of different approaches, but the group helped me to
understand the concept of surrender in a new way. That surrender did not mean
giving up. Surrender just meant accepting what is and figuring out how best to
live in the present moment.
But for anyone who has ever lived in the darkness of a
prolonged depression, you will know the challenge of surrender.
Time to go into the
where the night has
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond
I hung on to those words. They shone like a star peeking
though dense fog. But what happened in that darkness? What were the gifts in
the darkness that were at the bottom of the well? If I surrendered, would I be
able to get well? Who would I be when the darkness lifted?
You must learn one
The world was made to
be free in.
Give up all other
except the one to
which you belong.
It sounds trite, but I realized that all my life I had
derived my worth from what I did, not from who I was. I had stacked up
accomplishments and projects to prove -- to myself — that I was indeed
valuable: teaching Sunday school, assisting with Girl Scouts, teaching classes,
running a small business. But the depression made those kinds of commitments impossible
to sustain. I had to take care of myself.
Those friends in the prayer group had encouraged me to take
on another kind of commitment -- to explore my burgeoning interest in writing. I
had always kept a journal, so I began to journal using the computer. When I had
vivid dreams, I wrote them down. Practice with imagery, I told myself. When I
fought with my husband, I wrote down our dialogs. Practice for better ways of
saying things. When I argued with my doctors, I wrote that down. Practice for
getting my point across to authority figures. When I wanted to give up, I wrote
that down. Practice for surviving.
Sometimes it takes
darkness and the sweet
confinement of your
anything or anyone
that does not bring
is too small for you.
“Anything that does not bring you alive is too small for
you.” As I gradually recovered from depression and the migraine pain began to
subside, those words echoed over and over again in my mind. What could be too
small for me? What was not bringing me alive? I had to finally admit that after
25 years of marriage and two children, my marriage was too small for me. My
marriage was not bringing me alive. Those realizations were certainly not the
gold coins I had expected to discover “in the darkness glimmering.” But my
journey to overcome four years of a severe depression and seven years of a
daily migraine had shown me that I could do anything if I believed in myself. And
I had always believed I would get well. I knew I could begin a new life.
“Anything that does not bring you alive is too small for
you.” That line of poetry serves as my compass when I struggle with choices. That
line of poetry serves as the gold coin at the bottom of the well. I am getting
better at only choosing those things that bring me alive. “The world was made to
be free in” after all.
Bracken is an educator and writer whose poetry, essays, and interviews have
appeared inLittle Patuxent Review, Reckless Writing Anthology: Emerging Poets of
the 21st Century,Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender
Violence, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire:Love Poems,Praxilla, New Verse News, Scribble, The Museletter, and The Gunpowder
Review. In addition to teaching professional writing at the University of
Maryland College Park and working as a poet in the schools, Ann presents
frequently at writing and creativity conferences including Mindcamp of Toronto,
Florida Creativity, the Maryland Writers’ Association, the Association of
Independent Maryland Schools, and The Creative Problem Solving Institute. Website: