Clara Bridges is mental health blogger and therapy client, working in the education sector. Reading and writing poetry has been important to her well-being since she was a child, and it has also played a vital role in her therapy. As well as writing, and engaging as much as she can with the healing power of words and story, Clara enjoys yoga, gardening, and attempting to run around after her two small children!
A couple of years ago, a poem about writing poured out of me. It happens, occasionally, like that, the words following on from each other as if I were reading, rather than writing them. ‘A poem about writing’ was born in one swift go – an explanation to myself, and a piece of self-reinforcement, showing me how far I’d come. The last time I’d written a poem about writing, at the age of eighteen, it was about the fact I couldn’t trust anyone with the inner life my poems revealed. Back then, a combination of my mental health struggles and emotional invalidation at home, and the lack of any safe space to be myself or to explore my feelings, apart from in poetry, kept me hidden, and kept me small. Now, sharing my writing still feels like a risk, but one that I can approach with vulnerability, rather than flee in fear.
Honest writing, from the heart, can’t help but be revelatory. To write is to be known – that is the risk. But I’ve long given up on the idea that poems convey fixed knowledge or have a single meaning. I read and write poetry for myself, not for others, and in both cases the revelation is primarily of myself, to myself. I wrote ‘The wisdom of trees’ a few months ago, and every time I read it I see new layers of meaning that I hadn’t ‘intended’ and wasn’t aware of when I was writing. Unlike ‘A poem about writing’ which arrived with its conclusions already formed, ‘The wisdom of trees’ started with the arrival of the first line only, like a clue in a treasure hunt. The words held my attention, and I felt compelled to sit down and write in order to discover what came next – sometimes, it happens like that too. Sometimes a poem captures the essence of a journey already made. Sometimes, it is the start of the journey, and the words keep me travelling and unearthing treasure, long after they land on the page. I’ve realised that when I read, I need to understand not so much the words that resonate, but why I feel they resonated; and when I write, I never do so alone, but in partnership with hidden parts of me.
A poem about writing
To write is to reveal, to battle
And to heal. To write is to die
To the self-perpetuated
Lie that I am small, and
Do not matter; that someone
Else’s chatter is louder
Than my loudest pain –
But I do matter.
To write is to be known –
To pose the question – and to be
Alone with the answer:
‘Do you like what I have
Shown, do you accept me,
Words and all?’ And if you don’t –
I write because your words
Can never make me small.
To write is to reveal, to battle, and to heal. Writing a poem can be a healing process for the mind, but that doesn’t always mean that it’s a peaceful one. Writing can be a soft weapon in a fierce battle – a tool for wielding both the firmness and compassion needed to face our inner tormentors. Many a time – in frustration, hopelessness, depression, anger – I have fought my way to a decision to sit down and write, to pick up a pen, to open the laptop, rather than sink deeper into those feelings or try to fend them off in self-destructive ways.
By the time I finish writing, dry-eyed or not, something has happened. At worst, worse feelings have been avoided; at best, something has been worked through and expressed, and in the process, a degree of healing has taken place. Feelings that seemed too intense to contain within myself, have assumed more manageable proportions. Feelings that seemed too complex to grapple with, have crystallised into their constituent parts. Parts of me that seemed too difficult or shameful to face, have come to feel a little more acceptable.
Perhaps I wrote poetry because my parents forbade me from keeping a diary. I did not need permission to write poetry, and now I know that I do not need permission to be the poetry that I write. I think it’s a sign of my own gradual healing that I no longer feel threatened by exposing my poetry to others. If I am honest and creative, I am a ‘good enough’ poet-person. Even if my words are in the hands of another, they do not hold my self-worth. Poetry has helped to root me in my own psyche, it has helped me to catch the whisperings of selves that I’d forgotten or disowned, and it has given me an abundance of metaphors that attach meaning to different aspects of my life. Writing poetry and reading it, has helped me to survive, grow, and change. It has helped me to bear the weight of painful circumstances and emotions as they land on me for a while; and it has helped me to keep reaching for the light despite my scarring.
The wisdom of trees
This was the year I learned to look at trees –
And now I see them everywhere.
Have you noticed how a gathering
Of birch trees in the early spring-time
Has a canopy which forms a purple haze?
My gaze beloves their shape, their
Linking pattern branches, bare and telling,
Naked, free. Souls lightly bearing their foliage,
Trunks bleeding black through beautiful
Scars, while reaching up into the light.
Have you been for a walk with them at night –
Holding your breath, because you want
To hear them speak? The birds carry secrets
From limb to limb, wind-whispers,
Born on a wing. They balance on a
Steadfastness equal to their freedom;
They know the wisdom of the tree
Is that it’s rooted in the earth. I feel it
Breathe out grace, longevity; I bend
Into its presence, and I breath in awe.
This was the year you brought me garden metaphors –
And longing led my gaze to where
Your own memory trove of age
Stood tall and poignant against the sky.
I sighed – for what I wouldn’t give
To gaze at trees, from such a vantage point
As this. From where I sit, I see them
Everywhere. This was the year my looking
Changed. How strange, that it all happened
In this room, curled up upon this chair.