I’ve been writing poetry for a long time.
The first that I can remember is all the way back in second grade. My teacher had all the students in her class sit down to write a poem describing a subject by sensory impressions and personal metaphor (e.g., “Love is like…”) Then the poems were all bundled up into a book–yay for mimeographs!–and handed out to the parents on parent-teacher night.
That was in 1974.
I received a lot of encouragement for my poem. And, as seven-year-olds will do, I absorbed it as greedily as a sponge absorbs water. I wrote more poetry at the time, mostly limericks and haiku (because they were short, obviously), but none of those have survived.
I still have the original book from second grade, though.
It isn’t very good, but I never forgot about it. My next major stab at poetry came five years later, in seventh grade. Once again, it was for a school project–this time, for the seventh-grade school newspaper. Inspired by MAD magazine, Spike Jones records, and Saturday Night Live, I wrote a number of humorous and satirical poems that, while my classmates loved them, didn’t meet with the approval of the nuns at St. Joseph’s (it was a parochial school). I probably shouldn’t have set out to mock TV and the American Flag and Jesus. I didn’t realize I was being radical at the time; I was just trying to be funny.
After that, I took a break from poetry until the sophomore year of high school, when I set out to write some poems for the school lit magazine. Given that I was going through a fairly depressing period at home at the time, these were fairly dark, many of them dealing with themes like being outcast at school, parental oppression, and suicide. They’d be considered emo today, but back then, all that happened was daily visits to my guidance counselor and more than a few parent-teacher conferences.
But at that point, the die was cast. There were no more long breaks between poems; it was seldom that I went longer than a week without writing. I was writing other things, too–short stories, novelettes, and a truckload of fanfic (well before the invention of the internet, mind you…I wrote in a number of shared-universe settings with my best friend, and together we explored the worlds of Star Wars, original series Star Trek, the X-Men comics, Indiana Jones, the SF TV series V, and a conglomerate sword & sorcery world incorporating the characters of Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Krull, Labyrinth, Ladyhawke, and the Sword and the Sorcerer.)
Due to a filing cabinet theft during the summer break between my first and second years at college (the filing cabinet was in storage in the cellar of my apartment house, and it was taken contents and all; I wouldn’t have minded losing the cabinet itself so much if they’d left the contents, which contained eight years’ worth of writing, drawing, and newspaper/magazine articles), I don’t have much of my original poetry from my early years left. Only the few things that had made it into school lit magazines and newspapers remained.
All there was left to do was keep going.
My poetry didn’t begin to take a turn toward matters of religion until my mid-thirties, with the first poem I wrote about Persephone, titled “Pomegranate”. I knew even as I was writing it that something about that poem was different; instead of making things up in my head like always, it was as if I was listening to someone else tell me their story, and just writing it down for them.
It was sufficiently unsettling that, while I kept writing poems, I didn’t write any other poems about the gods for almost two years.
The one that followed that was “Herne”, a long (especially for me) eponymous poem about the horned one that emerged from one of Shakespeare’s plays and is thought by some to be a later survival of the stories of Cernunnos (given the etymological links between the two names). That one was snatched up for publication in the devotional anthology “Hoofprints in the Wildwood”, by Gullinbursti Press, a little while after I wrote it.
More poems followed: on Theseus and the minotaur, on Artemis, about Apollo and Helios. As the number of deities I honored expanded from just the Hellenic pantheon, so did the poems I wrote explore new territory: Brigid and the Morrigan, Odin and Thor, and then too many to count.
Some of these have been published. This is a good thing, in my eyes–not because I crave public acclaim, but because any time I can share my impressions of the Gods with others, it counts as a good day for me. Currently, my work has made it into the ADF magazine Oak Leaves, the Troth’s magazine Idunna, Neokoroi’s newsletter He Epistole, fourteen different devotional anthologies, and now, my own first volume, Listening for Their Voices.
Nobody gets rich off writing poetry; that isn’t why I do what I do. As someone who’s labored under a fairly severe inferiority complex (and all the self-confidence issues that go along with it) all my life, I wondered for a long time what it was that the gods wanted from me. I thought I had nothing to offer them. Then a friend pointed out to me that I had apparently been chosen to tell their stories and spread their word — not proselytization, but simply to give what I had to give. To offer what I was (apparently) somewhat good at.
And you know what?
I’m good with that. I’m glad I have something to offer Them. I’m perfectly happy to be Their tool. If I can be of use to Them, then I want to be used.
And if someone does read work I wrote and find their way to the Gods through that? (Unlikely, but not completely impossible.)
Then I’ve done what I wanted with my life, and when my life is over, I can die happy with the knowledge that my life was not a waste of time.
Hail the Gods! Hail the spirits! Hail the Ancestors!