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Ellen Bass (2008)

I write to make the unbearable bearable. Poetry is the way I pray, the way, as the Buddhists advise, I "lean into" my experience. When I am confronted with terrible events, poetry gives me a way to handle them—literally, to touch them, to feel them with my hands. And to hold them as part of the human experience. Writing doesn't change how I feel, it doesn't heal me. But it gives me a way to live inside the pain. Elie Wiesel, writing about the Holocaust, said, "You can hold yourself back from the suffering world: this is something you are free to do..., but perhaps precisely this holding back is the only suffering you might be able to avoid."

I think this is true of our more personal grief as well. When I try to avoid my sorrow, when I feel affronted by the pain of my life, the impact of my grief seems to increase. Paradoxically, the only relief at all for me is to surrender to the fact of my grief, to accept my burden and try to carry it as gracefully as I can. Writing is one way—one of the most important ways—I do this.

And I write to sink more deeply into the joy. Happiness, it would seem, should be an easier emotion to experience—and obviously in many ways it is. But there are a million opportunities for pleasure and gratefulness that I miss—we all do--every day. Poetry allows me to pay attention—which is its own pure form of prayer. It allows me to praise the ordinary and extraordinary moments of this one short life.

Originally posted in Dustin's former blog on 7/2/08.


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