When Words Were Poems

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Photo: (c) Lorraine Healy–an amazing Argentinian poet, writer, and photographer living and working on Whidby Island. Lorraine is the first person ever to have received a Green Card in the U.S. on the basis of being a poet.

I had the great pleasure of meeting, working, and living with Lorraine recently at Hedgebrook, a Gloria Steinem-spirited place of ‘Women Authoring Change.’ I was at Hedgebrook working on my Soul Stories collection of poetry and prose exploring the boundaries of narrative within health and healing in the context of trauma and homelessness. Surrounded by poets and the genius loci of Whidby Island (including of Double Bluff beach in the photo–where I walked almost every day), as well as being cut off from the time/mind suck of the internet, ‘poetry happened’ and this is one poem that came to me. It is, of course, a nod to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Every word was once a poem.” In the poem I probe the places ‘where narrative ends’ or ‘where narrative is not possible.’

There are human experiences beyond the reach of narrative. These are dimensions of experience that are what psychologist Donnel Stern calls ‘implicit knowing’ or the ‘unthought known’: they are there but not there; there but not available for reflective thought or verbalization. Yet these experiences of implicit knowing can be formulated, conveyed, shared and communicated through metaphor, poetry, art, photography, and gesture.

Embracing the times and places where narrative ends and poetry happens is not for the faint-of-heart. It is akin to the feeling of standing on the vanishing strip of shifting sand at the foot of a fast-eroding beach bluff.

When Words Were Poems (a choka–a form of waka/Japanese poetry)

When words were poems

our body’s understanding

was written in flesh;

a repose, a prayer whispered

in answer to awe.

Round marbled babbles sang praise,

danced the sun on waves.

Now each word is a poem,

draw knowledge softer,

suckle life from all splinters,

embrace shadows beyond words.