Death and Re-birth through a Project by Elisabeth Schilling

Art by Magdalena_Korzeniewska

For about a year and a half, I have been working on a collection of poetry that I feel is worth something. I have been writing poetry since I scribed pages hidden between my math textbook when I was 9, gone through poetry workshops in graduate school where I produced a creative thesis, and continued to write off-and-on after that. I have an extensive cornucopia of poetry, but it was around last October of 2016, perhaps, that I decided to write my experience.

As a pre-teen, I wrote about what I thought my life could be, fantasizing about being an older woman with mottled relationships, missing opportunities to discuss my fragile relationship with my parents as the only-child-golden-child, my passion and doubts as a religious, my shame at not being more experienced. Even when I was in graduate school for poetry in Ohio, I didn’t think my life was worth excavating. I wrote dreamy, dense poetry that was surreal and symbolic but largely incoherent. I could again have written about my evolving religious beliefs, my curiosities and risks I took living outside of my home state of Oklahoma as a young woman for the first time, my declining relationship with my mother, or my insecurities again, but this time as a lesser-prepared graduate student in comparison with my literary and theory-laden colleagues.

On one hand, some might say the culture I come from is narcissistic and navel-gazing. I would agree, but just like I feel women can sometimes be selfish in a quite necessary and liberating way (as opposed to those around her accusingly saying she is “so selfish” for abandoning them/following her own path/needing a room of her own), I feel the confessional and self-reflective can be the healing and helpful side of the coin. For me, at least in my experience, my “finished” collection feels exactly this way.

Writing poetry mostly as experiments in convention, experimentation, and display for 20 years, I realized quite late the therapeutic tool it could be. It was almost two years ago that I decided to pick up the pen and release my pain through its ink. I realized I desperately needed a coping mechanism as I was pretty isolated (my doing) and having only the adjunct-funds to pay for therapy once every 30 days (still helpful). I would suddenly weep as if releasing incredible grief my body had been holding; I would get so angry and beat at the walls and hurt my throat while screaming when no one was around; I would demand my world provided an easier and more honorable way to opt out of life, feeling like human existence was physically painful and the wrong choice for my soul. But then I began, any time I felt anxious or lonely or desperate, to take it to a poem. I would write until I didn’t feel anymore. That may sound un-liberating, but, as Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything, and I needed a momentary release. It felt healing to me.

Poetry has long been necessary and functional to women, such as lesbian writers who wanted to code the romantic, affectionate, sexual relationships with other women in a way that the right people would get it, and the wrong people wouldn’t. Poetry has been political; it has offered both traditional and alternative spiritual nourishment. In Audre Lorde’s “Poetry is not a Luxury,” she explains that poetry is the manifestation of our magic that is both healing and expressive, a tincture for the toxic internalizations of grand narratives such as patriarchy, that might police and quiet:

“We see ourselves diminished or softened by the falsely benign accusations of childishness, of non-universality, of self-centeredness, of sensuality. [. . .] The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. [. . .] For within structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive.”

When we are told we are childish, self-centered, too sensual, too non-universal, it is basically to silence us. Our feelings were definitely meant to survive.

From the chapbook:

For Those Who Feel They Have No Words

Baby girl, you have the words for that poem, beloved novel, song.

No need for five more years or trip to Mexico; you don’t need

to realize you can’t love or suffer the way some artists do in order

to have something real to say. No. Today is when you have the words:

when you tell your mother you are leaving, decide to date a Hindu

when you are coming out of fundamentalism, when your father

still doesn’t speak, when you recall how the moon gets red after

you skim page 128 in your Sweet Valley High to quickly masturbate.

Your words are when you are inadequate in your graduate poetry

workshop, when they speak the names of theorists you’ve never

heard of, when you nod your head. You have the words because

you have lived even though you feel you haven’t yet, because there

is enough pain in childhood, because you were an awkward teen;

there can be entire books written about awkward teenage years.

And you are one of the ones to write it. I don’t mean in a cutesy,

noodle nose on the wall way. I mean just keep it simple, subject

and verb; tell the broken truth. That is what serves. Not lush gardens

or sticky butterfly wings, things that don’t yet exist because you haven’t

drunk them in gallons with your starlit eyes. I want you, in your period

underwear and stringy hair, mouth stretched in half-glee and insecurity,

your mother telling another lie, what you will eat for a snack. I want

that un-showered, seeking, un-artful you. How basic can you bake it?

Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland. 

Audre Lorde Poem Source:

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

8 thoughts on “Death and Re-birth through a Project by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. I notice that I write poetry when I am deeply moved – either in sorrow or joy – it’s almost as if there is no well deep enough besides that of poetry to contain the depth of those feelings… and yes, poetry, like all writing is therapeutic… I can remember dreaming for two years straight that I needed to write before I finally picked up a pen! I had no belief in myself as a person let alone a writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The road to self-belief is long and rocky for me too. We all need people who can help heal us. Eventually we might unearth the path, root down in places, let the trash others have thrown decompose and grow bulbs of magenta feminine divine.


      1. Regards your comment, thanks Lache S. I’ve been studying Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings lately, and your comment reminds me of the journey O’Keeffe created via all those magnificent bulbs you mention of the magenta feminine divine.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sarah Whitworth – a more compelling connection could not be made. My own comment was post-haiku after seeing so many scarlet + purple bulbed hanging flowers called fuchsia mrs. popple in Wexford, Ireland.


  2. First lines for personal poems pop into my head as I read this! Maybe some day I’ll follow through. I used to fill books of journals during times of challenge, when everything felt so dangerous and stormy. But they were never poems. Some good openings might be: “I tell people to stop “should-ing” on me” or “Daddy is coming home tonight”, or “There is a Presence in the whisper of the wind”.

    Thank you for sharing yourself with us, Lache, and stimulating dormant feelings of past and present. Maybe also future.

    Liked by 1 person

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