Joyce Campbell


I used poetry to get me through the difficult times of my life. When I could not write complete sentences for stories and could not concentrate on much of anything, poetry pulled me through. It was the one thing I could write with impaired concentration and focus problems, albeit poorly. I could pen a poem because I could write a few lines and create a rhythm or a rhyme, then put it aside and return to revise it when I felt better. I could write a few minutes and take a break. With fuzzy thoughts, poetry let me write myself into normality, clarity, and occasionally into oblivion for a quiet mind. Then it's back to short spans of writing and rewriting poems. Poetry delivers me by distracting me from arthritic and fibromyalgia (muscle affliction) pain that keeps me from being the "me" I know.

I know not what I want to say until I let the poem evolve. Writing poetry is a form of self-discovery of a higher inner calling of self-realization. It makes me feel alive despite disabilities that make some days unbearable, and it lets me feel a kind of normalcy.

It lets my thoughts roll onto paper or onto the computer screen. Like magic it wets my fingers with ink, and I do not fret about what is discovered in these poems. I do not analyze their meaning or their need to speak. I listen intently as the voice whispers in my ears. I believe I'm the "me" I always wanted to be when I write poems. There were days when losing me inside poetry was my only purpose. It keeps me sane.

I stand outside the words. I bite them off and chew them up. They are sweet. They are sour. They're gritty. They're playful. And I love them like purple pansies, like wildflowers, like frappuccino. They move to the rhythm of thoughts, their own voice, their own music, their own dance. They dance for me since I can no longer dance. Poetry is a dip into a Jacuzzi. It's like a cool drink of lemonade. I cherish each drink and thirst for poetic language. I strive to write incantatory verse and to smile at my creation. I love the language.

Poetry witnesses the goodness to atrocity, to delicacy, to rights and wrongs. It lets me find the rhythm of life and a way to connect the dots of living. It is a call to mindlessness, but it awakens thoughts. Once I accepted it as a medium, I found it has a healing effect on the atrocities of life. You feel the thunder roar, but later calmness strolls in with each successful line.

When I'm feeling purple, I read the poems I wrote and read other poets' work and the Bible - the ultimate poetry. They fill my mind with something other than my ineptness and emptiness. Poetry reverberates in the mind of the sane and, maybe, the insane. It disturbs the complacent and soothes the perturbed. It disinvests in scattered thoughts, something I hate, but it reinvests in incantatory verse. It makes the world bright and shiny as that red tricycle of my childhood. I love making music with words and images as much as I loved riding that three-wheeler. In the words of Albert Einstein, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Imagination is what brought me through the toughest parts of my life, particularly the growing-up phase and these trying days of chronic pain.

The poet is the mouthpiece of the world, and a voice for the disenchanted and disenfranchised. I am a voice for the silent minority, particularly the disabled. I accept my challenge and the responsibility though poems are unspeakable joy, sorrow, or despair depending on my mood or mood swings. The poet Theodore Roethke said, "In a dark time, the mind begins to see."

Sometimes I must drown in perspiration to bring truth to light in poetic diction, which illuminates order and chaos, brings darkness into light, quiets the boisterousness. What is essential is that I find an exalted tone, an inspired tone, to create a work of genius, something I strive for every day. For me, the poetic voice is the epitome of liberty. I think of myself as a blank page waiting to be inscribed. In depression, I discovered a blank life to inscribe, and words filled the emptiness.

My inkwell ran dry many times. No, my thoughts froze inside my head and prior to writing poetry, a calming effect, I went through life mowing down obstacles that block the images. I get around it through writing more often. I found solace and a space for thinking while writing poetry. I knew I had to do something, or I'd be nothing. I was so afraid of being nothing, which is scarier than dying, that I devised my own roadmap to rhythms. In crisis my writing life is lost. I dangle over a cliff, my writing dead, unmourned and unburied. I cannot breathe for a Lamaze minute because of the misery of ink clogging my lungs like a bad cold.

While sitting in those poetry classes at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, I took praise for the good - the beautiful lines, and humiliation for the bad - the messed up ones. I learned from both. Some days I sat there completely out of sync for I could not concentrate well enough to find a rhythm or a poetic thought. But in the end, I had survived through the meter, line, and rhyme with a greater longing, clearer understanding, and better skills to write verse.

I page aknew during my depression and my physical pain that writing poetry would save me from everything I feared, but nothing is that perfect. It inspired me instead. I wanted to live. I wanted to see the good side of life. Poetry makes me roar that "I am woman," to cite Helen Reddy's hit song of the seventies, and I am a survivor till death do poetry and I part.


Joyce Campbell is a journalist who wrote a column for nearly twenty years, five of which The New York Times' former New America Service syndicated me. I have published poetry in several local magazines, including a Cup of Poems, and I read poems at venues in Wisconsin. The essay, "Poetic Path," is a chapter in my memoir, Broken Ladder - a story about how bipolar and physical disabilities interrupted a normal and productive life.