How did you first engage with poetry?
In my late twenties, I worked as a fashion designer in New York City. I went into clothing design because I loved drawing and sewing, so I figured design would be a good career. Unfortunately, working for a fashion company was not as creative as I expected. Although my designs sold well, the owners stayed with the best selling designs season after season. They offered them in different colors and patterns until sales slowed down. As a result I spent most of my time in meetings with salespeople on what to keep in the line, checking the specs when the designs went into production, and confirming changes by fax (I know I’m dating myself here!) with our factories in Hong Kong and Macao.
Because I needed to be more creative, I turned to writing. William Matthews says it all (except I wasn’t 17) in “Mingus at the Showplace:”
I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,
and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat
William Mathews, Time & Money, Houghton Mifflin Press, 1995.
I scribbled my first poems on pages in my Bible. They were not good, but they let me pour out the disappointment that had been building over the years. Poetry also gave me a voice that I’d never used before. When speaking, I couldn’t verbalize my opinions quickly, and so others ran over me during a conversation. My role became listener, but writing gave me time to craft my words, so when someone read what I wrote, they got a clearer idea of what I was trying to communicate. Without poetry, I would lose the ability to express myself, and I’d shrink back into the background.