Where Does Poetry Come From? By Barbara Ardinger

Poetry is a gift from our ever-creating goddess, but you know what? She also has a major sense of humor. Nearly every night, I go to bed, pet the cats awhile, and think I’m going to go right to sleep. And what happens? Words happen. Beginnings of blogs. (This one. Last night.) Lines of dialogue or description that will end up in my revisionist fairy tales. First lines of poems. Most nights, I “talk” myself to sleep.

 Because the Goddess is endlessly, continuously creative and her art is our blessed planet, so are all her children creative, and so am I also creative and kinda artsy, too. I learned to embroider when I was about seven years old. I learned to sew, I learned to knit, I learned to crochet. For years I crocheted granny-square afghans, but I ran out of people to give them to about ten years ago. As a child, I sat on my father’s workbench and learned to work a little with wood. I started taking piano lessons the day after my sixth birthday. Although my mother and my brother were artists, I missed out on that talent, but made up for it by taking a right-brain drawing class and doing a magnificent contour drawing of a brussels sprout. I don’t remember when I couldn’t read, and I’m told that I started writing fiction when I saw seven years old and wrote a story for my daddy. Along the way, of course, I’ve also learned a lot of very practical creative skills, of course, like touch typing.

I raised a creative son, too. He’s a published poet and big on the poetry scene here in southern California. (I love it when someone comes up to me and asks, “Are you Charles Ardinger’s mother?”) Most of the poems I’ve written, I’ve put in my books, which is why he calls me a guerilla poet. He says no one will publish me. But that’s not true! I have been anthologized, both on paper and on line.

Back in the 1980s, two friends liked my poem “Gimme back my” so much that they asked me for permission to recite it at rituals and other events. It’s a poem about old women, a slightly shortened version of which appears in the front of my novel, Secret Lives, which is about grandmothers who do magic. Here’s how the poem opens:

The old women slump
in their basement circle,
settling brittle bones on shaky metal chairs,
shading eyes against harsh light,
fanning away hot, stale air.
Canes and walkers at their sides,
they still wait,
nodding, trembling, drooling.

As the poem goes on, the women and their social worker begin playing a call and response memory game. Some lines are based on my grandmother’s life, some on the lives of grandmothers of friends. The full poem is on my website. Here’s how it ends.

Songs of archaic queens
echo through the circle now,
songs of power,
songs of return.

Gimme back my mother’s milk
Gimme back my healing touch
Gimme back my sexy body.

Give me back my dignity.
Give me back my peaceful world.
Give me back my crown.

A few nights ago, I went looking for another poem I wrote about the same time. I looked in the “Litrachure” folder on my computer. I looked in the thick three-ring binders where I keep beginnings and other old stuff. I looked in the row of my published books and the anthologies I’m in. I pawed through my paper files. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I considered getting out a pendulum and holding it over everything in my home, but I’ve never been very good at dowsing. Finally I just shook my head and went to bed.

And half an hour later, I sat up, moved the cats out of the way, turned on the light, put on my glasses, and picked up the pad of green paper and the magic eversharp pencil I keep on the table next to my bed. A poem was coming through my mind. Sitting up against the pillows, I rearranged words and lines in my head, then wrote them down. I lined words out. Wrote a new line or two or three. Crossed more out. Added a new image. Added punctuation.

Yes, creativity is a gift from our ever-creating goddess, but you know what? She also has a major sense of humor. Nearly every night, I go to bed, pet the cats awhile, and think I’m going to go right to sleep. And what happens? Words happen. Beginnings of blogs. (This one. Last night.) Lines of dialogue or description that will end up in my revisionist fairy tales or somewhere else. First lines of poems. Most nights, I “talk” myself to sleep. You see, many years ago I figured something out—if it’s good, either I’ll remember it in the morning or it’ll come back when it wants to. If I don’t remember it, then it wasn’t worth saving. Only once have I gotten up at 3 a.m. and turned on my computer. That was when I wrote “There Is a Web of Women,” which required careful formatting.

Here’s the poem I wrote the other night. It tells this same story as this blog, but much more compactly.

I wrote a poem, maybe a quarter-century ago –
one of my good ones,
it had deep gray music in it.
Thinking I might use it again, I went looking for it late last night.
But it’s vanished. I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Well, I said to myself, I’ve moved eight or nine times
in that quarter of a century –
things get lost in the packing and unpacking
and poetry is fragile.
No! Poetry is strong,
and I’m the one that’s more fragile now.
Well, I said to myself, I can always write a new poem.
And yet –
and yet

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

Categories: Goddess, Poetry

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. That’s one of the great things about putting poetry online now–we can always google for ourselves and our past works of genius! ;) Really enjoyed this post, especially since “theapoetics” is my pet subject and I *think* it is knocking at the door as my dissertation subject.

    We used your Web of Women poem (slightly modified to Web of People) as a group reading at our last family winter solstice ritual. Love it!


  2. Beautiful, Barbara! Love the poem that came to you last night. Beautiful truth. Right on, write on!


  3. Thanks to you both. Elizabeth, how about you put some of your wonderful poetry in your next FAR blog?


  4. Coincidentally (or not!) I’ve been very drawn to poetry recently. Enjoyed your post.


  5. Dear Barbara, I’ve been reading your “Secret Lives” in the past four weeks after undergoing bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer. You have no idea how healing and restorative your stories are! Poetry, words, stories, the voices of women, goddesses, this is where healing dwells!


  6. Majak, have you come to Ch. 23 yet? Jacoba discovers she has breast cancer. The goddess she sees in the hospital is the same goddess I saw when I had cancer surgery in 2003. There’s a lot of real life in that novel. (Not all my life.)


  7. Wow, I haven’t got that far yet. Synchronicity! I hear the real life in the novel along the fantasy and the humor. Really a delicious read. I did much preparation before the surgery, ritual and dedicating my breasts to all nursing mothers. I received so many prayers, candles, spells and incantations, that I felt no pain afterward… and when I saw my changed chest, I was overcome with love for this new me! Blessings.


  8. thank you for sharing your poetry in this blog!


  9. I just found you and I am totally delighted. Blessed be, barbara


  10. Oh my goodness! I knew your name rang a bell…the first book of Goddesses I ever purchased is your book, Goddess Meditations! I love this book and am especially thrilled to pieces learning you enjoy writing poetry :)
    I also will find myself writing down lines that swim into my head in the dark of the night, though, sadly, this hasn’t happened in quite awhile…I have allowed daily worries and busyness to move into my head which has pushed my Muse into a small corner :(


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