The Impressions of These Lines

I found the  following lines in Louise Gluck’s poem “Echoes” from her book Averno: “From our kitchen garden / you could see the mountains, / snow covered, even in summer. / I remember peace of a kind / I never knew again. / Somewhat later, I took it upon myself / to become an artist, / to give voice to these impressions.” Looking back on my life as an artist, I gave voice to impressions, too, but I didn’t know I was becoming an artist through my writing.

Maybe these line struck a cord because I wrote my first poems in a house that faced the Franklin mountains in El Paso, Texas. I was a child then, and still had what I’ll call the childhood peace,  the type of peace that protects you from grown-up troubles.

Yet, I still found myself affected by my parent’s hardships, so I wrote my first poem. Despite feeling so proud of myself for being able to convey my emotions with rhyme, I could not translate the poem word for word to Spanish for my father. My poem lost its rhyme, and I lost my voice.

My poem lost its rhyme, and I lost my voice. 

I wonder: where is the voice, when you don’t have the right language to express an impression? I want to go off on a tangent here to tell you that I often feel that parts of myself don’t exist in English just like parts of myself don’t exist in Spanish. (I’ve written about this before.) And when I think of this, I don’t feel whole.

For me, writing has always been about describing an impression. Of what has marked me marks me again and again until I give voice to the truth. The impressions, they begged permanence on page, and I never intended to become an artist.

Did you take it upon yourself to become an artist like Louis Gluck? Or did you give voice to impressions first and then realized you were becoming an artist? 

This blog post is part of a poetry series called These Lines in which I share poetry lines that move me and why they move me.

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One Lesson on Writing

When I was in high school, I carried poetry notebooks that I made all of my  friends read. When I read most of them now, I can tell how I felt in those poems, but I  have no idea what I was talking about in some of them. I was very dramatic about everything. Actually, I still find myself being dramatic every now and then.

When I first read Marie Howe’s poem “What the Living Do”  which I found in a literature textbook, I was moved to tears. I was experiencing grief from my parent’s separation. The poem spoke to me because Howe addresses the poem to her brother Johnny who is dead. She talks to him as if he can listen to her. She tells him how living means experiencing the unpleasant moments like spilling coffee on oneself, hurrying,  and having a bag of groceries break. She ends the poem by telling him that she remembers him, and even though she doesn’t say she misses him, one can tell that she does.

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Dear Writer with Frustration, Inspiration, & Passion

Dear writer,

I’m with you. Like you I’m waiting for my breakthrough.

Out of frustration and out of inspiration I write here.

First, because even when literary journals or magazines have rejected my works, I refuse to believe that my writing isn’t worth publishing. Second, because Etty Hillesum, a not-so-well-known writer died too young and with her died her dream of becoming an established author. (Eight of her diaries were published in one book, but that doesn’t mean that’s all the writing she had to offer the world.)

I can’t let others write my story. Not anymore. To be honest, I don’t even know that my story is being told.

It has become too dangerous to wait until literary journals or magazines give my work approval. I can assure you that my story like your story is the story someone else is looking for right at this moment.

Lately, I’ve been writing with a combination of more urgency, more purpose, and more transparency.

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