In high school, I had dreams about engaging in creative writing for a living. I made my own notebook (because what creative genius buys his notebook at the store when he could make one on his own?) and wrote poem after poem. I wrote numerous short stories and started several novels. In college, I wrote my share of research papers, but fiction was my focus. I took classes on short fiction, novel writing, poetry, and creative writing in general.
But then I became a newspaper reporter.
And the muse died.
I quickly learned that although I loved to write, once I was spending my days slaving away in front of a keyboard and monitor, stringing English words together into stories for 40+ hours per week, the idea of going home and doing the same thing for a few more hours lost its appeal. I would much rather go on a hike, play my guitar, play a game, or read. Even when I did try to write fiction or poetry, I found it difficult to escape the journalistic style of writing which I exercised all week. Other than writing a Christmas play for my church one year and writing one song while wooing the woman who I have now married, my creative ventures were dormant.
So it was surprising when I wrote an entire rough draft of a poem on the spot in the Daura Gallery earlier this week.
Laura Long, an English professor, invited me and John McCormick to come to the Gallery while students in her poetry class were reading poems that they wrote about artwork in Mindful, an exhibition about mental illness by the Society for Contemporary Craft.
I heard some very good poems there. In fact, we are considering using some in a future edition of Lynchburg College Magazine. But I also felt inspired to write a poem about “Oh How I Love You,” a work by artist Grace Kulibius which features figures wrapped in constraining burlap and other cloth. The title reminded me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet “How do I love thee?” Although Kulubius’ work is actually meant to be a performance art statement about fashion and beauty, thinking about its possible relationship of the art to its title and to mental illness prompted me to open a notebook and scribble down a poem. Professor Long invited me to read it, too. Since then, I’ve expanded it. Here’s the latest draft:
Inside Joke (working title)
How do I love you?
Let me count the ways.
As long as my arms are bound in rough burlap, tight by my side,
And as long as my face stays wrapped in this shroud, in this cloud,
I cannot count on my fingers, I cannot see to remind me
why I love you so much I cannot let you go so
you can set me free
so you can
let me count the ways
I love you.
They say if you love something, let it go, so I’d like
to let go of you, and you let go of me.
If you come back, you are mine forever. And if I come back to you,
I’m yours to have,
to fold in rough burlap, and wrap in a shroud
to keep all the thoughts we’d not dare to speak aloud
between us, an inside joke we share, but dare
not laugh about.
But, if I come back to you, and you come back to me,
we belong to each other. Just like we do now.
So why even bother to set me free
so I can see
and count all the ways
I love you?
The poem explores how the art reminds me of a love-hate relationship we might have with a negative aspect of our lives, whether it be mental illness, a weakness, or a relationship. We love familiarity, we fear the unknown, we avoid failure by keeping from giving a wholehearted effort to moving on. So we cling to internal imperfections or problems.
That’s what came to my mind when I thought about “Oh how I love you.”
I hope you’ll go see Mindful in person. It’s on display in the Daura Gallery until December 9.
Bring a notebook. If you feel inspired to write a poem, share it with someone. Share it with me in the comments, if you’d like.