Letters for Creatives #22: Poetry is my therapy
The first guest post is by my friend Samantha - Be my guest vol. 1
Hello, I am Celeste. Each week I write about marketing, creativity and writing. You can read the first and second interview for the Interview with an artist series.
Get inspired to write with February prompts here and have a chance to get your writing featured in a future newsletter after you sign up. You will have a free poetry book and Spotify playlist for writing from me in the first email when you sign up. You can read the archive as well.
This week will be a guest post from Samantha, a friend from the poetry community. She is talented with her storytelling. She is wicked (she has successfully planted the seed to turn me as half British at this point) with her spoken poetry.
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Samantha Yau is a poet and educator based in Birmingham, England. She recently began sharing her poetry online in October 2020 after years of writing reclusively. Her themes include identity, culture, upbringing, family, pain, loss and mental wellbeing amongst others.
She is currently working on self-publishing her debut poetry collection Descended from salt water. and her poem What’s in a name? was recently shortlisted in a national poetry competition, the Folklore Prize.
Poetry, for the layperson, this means roses are red and violets are blue! Or rather, this seems to be the reaction I receive when people in my daily life talk about poetry. Can I blame them? When I reflect upon my education there was a great lack of poetry being taught and performed throughout my average, state school curriculum. But how did I enter the world of poetry? Why do I write poetry? These are often questions I ask myself, let alone from other people!
When did you begin writing poetry?
From my childhood and even now to some extent, I felt very much unable to speak about the harm and pain I was and had experienced due to many contributing factors. My safe spaces were my books and my maternal grandparents home; my grandmother is an avid reader, her walls are crawling with an array of books and I was spoilt for choice.
As I grew older, I will never forget the day she introduced me to an individual who changed my life: James Baldwin. The first novel of Baldwin’s she handed to me was Another Country. The way in which Baldwin treated the characters with such care is inspiring; it was full of nuances, intricacies and yet they and their stories were all treated delicately. I felt every ounce of pain and growth in the characters, I knew I wanted to write in such a way - I just didn’t know what format at this point! So I began experimenting with short stories and poetry as an infrequent hobby.
Not long after, I was on a different micro-blogging website, not doing poetry or blogging but trying to connect with like-minded souls and laughing at cat videos (I was younger back then but let’s not pretend that none of us laugh at cat videos).
I stumbled at this point across a person who I was floored by, we had a short conversation, where I was obviously feeling brave, about how much I loved their work and we briefly shared poetry - this individual turned out to be no other than Nayyirah Waheed. This brief encounter would change me like no other. This is also where I came across the recommendation of a poet by the name of Warsan Shire; who had released a pamphlet named Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth.
Shire’s was the first poetry pamphlet I had ever purchased with my own money (gone now were the days of consuming grandmother’s home ‘library’) along with Nayyirah Waheed’s salt, and off I went merrily as I swapped many of my novels for poetry and began writing consistently for many years, not even sharing them with my other half of almost 12 years - who had no clue I wrote until I created my Instagram.
Why did you begin writing poetry?
Connection. Stories in any format, from novels to haikus, evoke emotion, understanding and connection. We are human beings after all, we are largely social creatures (Did I just use my psychology degree? I think I did). The things I’ve written about, the aches and pains I have been through, are not exclusive to my being, they have been felt by people all over, and some of those people have written about it (James Baldwin said it more elegantly).
Seek out those people, you will find not only connection but hopefully comfort and inspiration. Poetry is my therapy. Without it, I think I would really struggle to process and cope with a lot of my trauma, it is my truest and safest form of expression.
I want to make this abundantly clear, to be a good writer, you must be a better reader. I read far more than I have written. While I don’t think it makes me a good poet, I do believe it has given me a wider scope for thought and inspiration. I have seen people online, lovely people online, write poetry and also say in the same breath that they do not read or enjoy reading. It is very strange! But I think education has a big part to play in this phenomenon.
I don’t think you necessarily have to read poetry specifically to produce great poetry but I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of producing any sort of book, to read a variety of books. I feel this is the educator in me, as I tell my students this all the time.
I suppose that would be my advice to anyone stepping into the world of poetry! Read, but read for pleasure. The writing of poetry will naturally follow.
Until next time,
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P.S. Get inspired with February prompts and have a chance to get your writing featured in a future newsletter after you sign up. You will receive a poetry book and a Spotify playlist for writing after you do.