When I was in high school I was obsessed with the writings of 60s composer and poet, Rod McKuen. Call it drama queen kismet, or just another typical teenage literary crush, but when I curled up with this man’s words at night, I was home.
My English teacher, John Ashburn used to mock my adoration, always reminding me what with the James Joyce’s and Lord Byron’s of the world, how limited my mind seemed by landing on the hippy-dippy, oh-so-drippy Rod. This, from a man who used to offer up “bogus bonus” points if we could recite (and analyze) the second single on the 1983 album Synchronicity, by The Police. To Ashburn’s credit, I still dig me some Greek mythology stirred up by Sting’s ravishing voice. Mephistopheles is not your name. I know what you’re up to just the same.
But I liked McKuen’s vibe; the way his feelings left nothing behind, no convoluted sentences to shield his longing. He left it out there, sometimes dripping off the page, and it was beautiful to see.
So beautiful, in fact, I never took it upon myself to actually return my borrowed library books that year. Or the year that followed.
Poetry, like all artists’ creations, is subjective. We see what we want to see, which is sometimes far from where the artist was living when they poured their souls out for us. It leaves everything to the imagination, unlike real-life. In our everyday lives, there’s little room for error – and when the inevitable mistakes are made – the consequences can be game-changing.
So unlike a carefree brush stroke or writing sprint where nothing is held inside, the rest of the non-artist world keeps their feelings close to the chest. And the older we get, the tighter our grip. Until we feel free to catch our breath among trusted loved ones, in the arms of their safety and shared solitude.
These people we wrap ourselves with; they are our life rafts in a sea of uncertainty. They allow us to settle in with our feelings without the slightest worry of judgment or shame. They are a safe place to land – which is one of my favorite lines from all of Rod McKuen’s works.
So whether you’re an artist, or simply enjoy the arts, it’s so important to know that with this new year ahead – letting go of whatever holds you back is all part of it. That it’s really ok to have no idea what lies ahead (sorry, list-makers). Focus on the now. Lose yourself in the beauty around you – a melody that carries you, a movie or book that shakes you up, the morning dew on a eucalyptus leaf (thanks for that, M.S.) – it’s all living, breathing poetry.
Remind yourself to take time and space for you. Savor your company. Satiate on the unknown. And when life’s ebb and flow pull you under, remember you have those special loved ones who’ll lift you up, just as you’ve done so many times for them.
We may not know where we’re headed, but with life’s poetry and our safe places to land on our trail, the journey can be a lot less scary.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” — T.S. Eliot
Happy New Year,