TEXT & PHOTOS BY MIDGE K. MANLAPIG
“What’s it like to write poetry?” someone once asked me. Mind you: this was way back during my college days, the time I was Literary and Features Editor for the university paper. It was a question that came from left field, totally unexpected, but – for some strange reason – I had an answer ready: “Bloody, just plain bloody.”
It was Ernest Hemingway who said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” Of course, Papa Hemingway was talking about the whole length and breadth of literature, prose and verse. But the adage is particularly true for poetry: you sit at your typewriter (or workstation in this digital age) and let the words bleed from your mind and your heart, staining the blank page; despoiling its pristine whiteness with the smudge of emotion, besmirching it with pathos. A poem on a page is like a bandage wrapped around a poet’s bleeding, seeping wounds: a visible testimony of pain undergone, of both loss and triumph, of love found and lost and found again.
Ironically, however, I did not begin writing poetry in earnest until about a decade ago when I was between jobs and emotionally shattered by the circumstances of my life at the time. I think it would not be a stretch to say that poetry is the resort, the refuge of the broken and the angry and the bewildered. It is the outlet of those who cannot lash out physically: a venue through which words can be bandied about like so many knives, or guns, or alchemical poisons against one’s foes. It is a source of solace in one’s darker hours; a quiet reminder to one’s self that, so long as you get it out of your system, you’re well on your way to recovery.
Of course, the manner by which poetry is written varies from one poet to the next. There are those who seek order in well-considered meter and couplets in rhyme like the poets of a more innocent age. There are those of us who, like e.e. cummings, would rather let the words dictate the direction in which they will appear on the page: not rhyming, but bouncing to a beat all their own, the words dancing to a unique rhythm when read aloud.
There are those, of course, who say that poetry is for the birds: a boring thing, a sentimental idiocy that ought to be shunned by those seeking to live ordered and pragmatic lives. But if there is anything I have learned in life, it is that poetry is as necessary to life as air, water, and food. It is nourishment to the soul, balm to the wounded. Regardless of the language it was written in, it speaks directly to hearts that beat and throb and bleed and live.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth …
- From: The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
It teaches lessons, points people in the directions where they are supposed to go. Poetry is there to encourage the faint of heart; to stiffen one’s resolve to get out there and do better or do one’s best in the face of what appear to be insurmountable odds.
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools ...
- From: If, Rudyard Kipling
Poetry is also a way by which to express deeply felt emotions that would sound bald or awkward or crass if expressed prosaically. It adds a lightness, a playfulness; perhaps a touch of flirtation and even seduction to lure, to woo, to draw in the object of one’s desire. Indeed, if you’ve read The Wake, the final volume of Neil Gaiman’s series The Sandman, artfully written verses were used by the masters of Elizabethan literature – Shakespeare and Co. – to “spread a pair of pretty legs.” Otherwise, it is there to reassure someone that he or she is loved regardless of the circumstances; that, no matter what happens, they are held in great regard in someone’s heart.
- From: En Vérité
I speak as a poet when I say that the magic of poetry is not so much in how the reader perceives or interprets it, but more in the sincerity of the emotions conveyed or the vividness of the imagery evoked in every verse, in every line. For each word committed to the page is a little piece of the soul of the one who wrote it.
NOTE: Though only 39, Midge K. Manlapig is a semi-retired advertising practitioner who is now gearing up for something different in her life. She released her first ebook A Jar of Starlight, in October 2015; you can buy it online via Scribd at https://www.scribd.com/doc/284485032/A-Jar-of-Starlight. You can also check out her most recent verses via her blog The Darker Side of Me at http://malishvish.wordpress.com.