Writing has always been an encounter of light violently juxtaposed against my own darkness. For a long time I’ve used poetry as a shield, a place of misdirection where I can hide behind my words and lead the reader through a muddle of private images.
My “revisions” usually involve abandoning the old poem—which through workshop has been exposed for all its flaws and misdirection—and writing a completely new one. Though this move can be good for writers, I often use revision as a defense against the human condition and the fact that my poems do not emerge on the paper perfectly formed. In completely razing a particular poem, I ignore what is perhaps most crucial to revision: careful pruning, the replanting of lines and stanzas, and the cultivation of a more vivid breed of language. It’s easier to leave the poem behind, label it “failed,” and write something completely different.
I have come to realize the cowardice of sidestepping revision. The word revision means to “see again” and my vocation as a writer is wrapped up in this process. Recently, I visited a flower shop, and I was captivated by the way the florist performed her craft. She took four disparate blooms, added a sprig of eucalyptus and some leatherleaf, and shaped them into a beautiful arrangement. She knew exactly which blooms complemented each other and advised against certain colors. This is my task with words—to arrange, cut, and break words from their native stems in hopes of creating art.
For all the false wholeness I have clung to over the years—the poem that is “perfect” because I’ve kept it hidden from anyone who could say otherwise—it is in the process of revising poetry that I have come to realize that the most light comes from the cracks in my defenses and in the small yeses to the possibility of being stripped of myself through the stripping of my poems. To be broken is to make room for growth. “To live,” as John Henry Newman says, “is to change.” And that change is initiated on the page, splintered into words.
At a safe distance away from its piercing reality, understanding the value of brokenness is not difficult. My life as a Christian is centered upon the broken body of Christ as the ultimate sign of love. What is harder to understand is the value of my own brokenness—how the world of words that find their way into my poems can be a means of my breaking and of my salvation. Naomi Shihab Nye highlights the salvific nature of the word in her poem, “Vocabulary of Dearness”:
“How a single word
may shimmer and rise
off the page, a wafer of
The wafer offered to me at church in Communion, and the vocabularies surrounding my own life of faith, point to the necessity of the broken in poetry—that through the rendering of an image with small crumbs of words, my life as writer and believer tangle together.
I think of a word like communion. As a second grader, the word was associated with white dresses, sheer veils, a flat bread that folded like cardboard on my tongue before dissolving. The weight of the reality that Christ was becoming broken to physically enter into my brokenness did not come until later. And the truth of what this would look like in a church of sinners called to be one in this celebration of the sacrament was not the wedding-day perfection many of us little girls swooned over. For truly our community of faith was (and is) the bride of the Old Testament: unfaithful, fickle, always in the process of seeking and being sought.
I tend to wallow in the negative aspects of brokenness, in the myriad divisions trumpeted day to day by news media, social media, and even in ordinary conversation with family and friends. Perhaps many of us dwell in this shadowed space because we recognize that we suffer because we are broken, and the world suffers because it is broken, and still the desire for wholeness beats steadily in us.
Seeking wholeness, however, is an act of courage. I want to hide when workshop rolls around, when another person reads a little piece of my heart and wonders at what I am trying to say. The act of writing is ultimately a (sometimes painful) pursuit of a more authentic self, of a greater understanding of the world, and ultimately it is a pursuit of God. This communion with God, perhaps a communion I come closest to when I set pen to paper, is God’s way of wooing my wary soul into trust.
To write poetry, for me, is to embrace an unswallowable truth of my existence: that everything I write is destined to be broken, if not in workshop, then by the individual reader. My task is to acknowledge my broken humanity, and to say yes to being broken further in the act of writing. For in the life of Christ, brokenness is the prerequisite for healing, for a deeper communion with others. In a world devastated by ideological, religious, and political factions, the poem invites readers into a more expansive reality, a place of welcome, a place where the broken can be revealed and redeemed.
An MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City,
Lindsey Weishar is a contributor to Verily magazine, and has poems published in Steam Ticket and Kansas City Voices, among others. Her chapbook, Matchbook Night, is forthcoming from Leaf Press (Canada) in early 2018.
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