Poems as Catalysts and Seeds to Plant Change — By Tracie Nichols

Tracie Nichols is offering “Listening With Our Bodies: Writing Toward Resilience” through TLAN April 19 – May 10. Register by April 10 and save 20%. Details here.

August of 2021 found me deep in the magic of “Future Casting,” an online class offered through the Transformative Language Arts Network (TLAN) and facilitated by the astonishingly creative Caits Meissner. In the sixth and final week, Caits suggested we write a statement of poetics. For me, this was a very new and not entirely welcome idea. The following is what I wrote in response to that invitation. (Warning: this piece mentions violence and employs some salty language.)

For most of my life, whenever anyone asked me to summarize myself or my art I panicked, froze, then fled, usually leaving a comet tail of epithets. If cornered, I deflected. “Want to know me?” I’d hiss, “Go read my poems. They’re scraped from the inner walls of my ascending aorta.” Similarly, questions about my writing process often ran into a big old slammed door of “none of your damn business.”

I always thought it was because I’m an introvert with a bit of social anxiety. Lately, though, I’m coming to understand that it’s because writing poetry is how I wrote myself back into a breathing presence in my own mind and trying to codify that feels like I risk diminishing its creative, sustaining, power. Sharing my purpose and process as a poet feels x-ray intimate.

When I was a child, I was in so much pain—so deeply psychically displaced—it seemed I was only holding on to this world by a forefinger and thumb. My seventh grade art teacher tossed me a rope when he asked our class to write a poem in response to an art film of stampeding wild horses. There were foals in that snorting, screaming, rampaging mess. I recognized their terror and out-of-control turmoil. I felt it in my body and then streamed those messy, shouting word-feelings onto the pages of my tidy school notebook. And that, as they say, is where it all started.

I continued writing poetry to locate myself in myself and in the world, to imagine a place where I belonged, to make a space for myself that made sense despite nearly nothing around me doing so. The process of writing poetry—at least the way I interpreted it—let me circumvent my indoctrinated, gas-lit mind and write what my body felt, noticed, and perceived. I could write about the tall white pine tree and how I first, finally, felt real belonging when wrapped in their branches, listening to the wind.

I write because words and images live in my bones and itch. I write so those words detach their atoms from my marrow and coalesce themselves into poems. I write because my arms ache from holding the unflinching truth of violence in one hand and the equally unflinching truth of compassion in the other. I write to make sense of violence: the large and small violences we impose on each other, the cuts and digs we carve into ourselves, the narrow, restrictive, suffocating norms a culture inflicts on its members, the ongoing rape of this planet. I write to find respite in everyday moments of connection and the steady reliability of natural rhythms—small, quiet things like morning following night. I write because my body is etched with violence and betrayal and understands how finding respite in small, everyday beauties helps survival turn the corner into living.

In the beginning, I wrote so I could know I existed. These days, I write because I hold the truth of both violence and compassion in my body and I know there are people who need to hear that is possible. I write because I have lived sixty years of life in the face of a beginning that should have ended me and there are people who need to know that’s possible, too. I write poems to be catalysts. I offer them as seeds. I hope they plant change.

Tracie Nichols is a Transformative Language Artist writing poetry and facilitating writing experiences from under two old Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is the Co-founder of two writing groups, as well as a board member and newsletter editor for the Transformative Language Arts Network. Putting her master’s degree in Transformative Learning and Change to good use over the past two decades, Tracie has designed and facilitated many virtual and in-person lifelong learning experiences on a truly wide range of topics for small groups. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Rogue Agent and Text Power Telling as well as two anthologies. You can connect with her at https://tracienichols.com/.