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Sweatpants & Sanity | Shitty Poetry & Learning to Breathe

By Jerusha Gray

I’ve been writing shitty poetry since elementary school.

I am an avid journaler. You can find my poems and thoughts scribbled into sketch books, on the backs of bills, and in the margins of my assignments. I stumbled upon a forgotten journal this last week. I wrote in this throughout middle school and into high school. It is spiral-bound cardstock and beat to hell. I drew stick figures and Stussy symbols all over this thing. This journal has seen things and been places. The pages are yellowed and half the book has been ripped apart. The price for riding shotgun on my adolescence has certainly not gone unpaid. My teen years were brutal. I wrote to escape and process. I flipped open the pages, afraid of what I might find.

“My life is utter shit

I am homesick for something that doesn’t exist anymore

Maybe it never did

I don’t get it

Maybe it would be better if I was hot.

That’s not going to happen.

What’s something that rhymes with hot?

Snot, but that is not super sexy.

Amen”

-J 2001

 

I groan when I see things like this. There is so much angst in between the covers of this book.

My handwriting sprawls across the pages. It’s not so different than what it is now. I was trying so hard. I had all of the passion and no finesse. I see work that is pushing, pushing, pushing and still finding no purchase. No release for the pent-up anger and fear and longing of a young girl in untenable situation.

Reading the entries and poetry pulls me right back into that space. I am 17 again. I am couch-surfing, trying to work and go to school. I am 100% in love with someone I am positive that I can never have. In short – misery-rich and emotionally spent.

These words are a postcard from 17-year old me to 33-year old me.

They speak of pain, loss, and fear. Well, at least they did at the time.

Thankfully, there are years couched between then and now.

I can see past what I was so desperately longing for and find nuggets of hope.

Even in this darkest time, words didn’t fail me.

Writing gave me a way to fight back against all the things I couldn’t control.

My poetry was something that was uniquely mine.

I could share it or lock it away.

There is humor and wit crammed into the spaces between the pain.

If I am laughing, it means I am still breathing. In this, there is hope.

 

I’ve been reading and listening to poetry a great deal lately.

My partner introduced me to the Button Poetry channel on Youtube a few years back.

Art, words, and performance collide with talented individuals at the helm. It’s hard to go anywhere online without bumping into a Button Poetry Artist. Neil Hilborn’s poem OCD has a bajillion views on the Youtubes. In the words of the smartest person I know (my big sister Riah):

“His work takes my heart, chews it into shreds, and then feeds it back to me baby bird-style.”

First off, Riah, I agree with you completely…. And second, that is freaking gross. You are a weirdo. I guess that makes me a weirdo too.

I bought Neil’s book “Our Numbered Days” on kindle because it was sold out in paperback. I sat in my car on my lunch. I read it in one sitting. I tossed my phone onto the passenger seat and cried… like real tears. I hate crying so much that I cried even harder. My heart was broken because there would never again be an opportunity for me to read it again for the first time.  

Guante’s piece about consent had me jumping up from the couch and throwing my fist in the air. The lyrical quality of his voice explained all the things I wanted to say but didn’t have the words or courage. It is art manifested in man. Go watch it if you haven’t yet.

I have a long-standing love affair with the work of Natalie Patterson. Her words ground me and launch me into the stratosphere simultaneously. I revel in the delicious sense of being utterly and completely torn apart from the inside by the Great Perhaps.

You can find a bunch more of her work online by clicking here or here.

I could go on (and on and on), but I won’t.

I’m too busy grabbing these pieces and stuffing my pockets with their goodness.

I encourage you to do the same. Your life will be richer for it. You will be richer for it.

 

Here’s the thing-

Poetry gives us room for life to be what it is and what it isn’t.

It gives us a platform to explore the unknowable. It gives us a soft place to land.

Poetry can be our soapbox. It can be our safe place.

I remind myself that the crappy poetry in the pages of my journals are mileposts in this crazy life of mine. I cannot ever go back to that same place again. The shoes don’t fit and too much has happened to squeeze my ass into those jeans. What I can do though, is to honor my words. I will hold them close and allow them fuel the next generation of journals, sketch pads, and margins on assignments.

All I need to do is open my mouth, or pick up my pen to breathe that shit into existence.

If I am writing it means that I am still breathing.

And frankly, each breath, each minute I get to create something from nothing, is a damn miracle.

-JG

Jerusha Gray

Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores.

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1 Comment on Sweatpants & Sanity | Shitty Poetry & Learning to Breathe

  1. I understand this on a personal level. I think my poetry, whether good or bad, pulled me through Jr. High. I myself was filled with angst and a life that made no sense. Why couldn’t I be happy like everyone else? Little did I know, huh? I still write, I still read and love Edgar Allen Poe, who was my constant companion in those days. I also have read through my old poetry, and some of it was actually good! (Not much, mind you, but some.) I recently spoke with a girl whose family is a little disturbed by her poetry because it grows dark. I told her that it’s good to get those things out. It is better than letting it fester inside. I cautioned her that, if it ever gets to be a problem that her poetry isn’t releasing, she needs to talk to her family about it. They obviously love her or they wouldn’t fret. I told her grandmother, who introduced us, that the time to really begin to worry is if she stops sharing her poetry with them.

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