“Poetry is a kind of witchcraft. We have the power to manifest, to call forth, to make what didn’t happen, happen. I think of the griots who delivered stories from town to town, the soothsayers and playwrights and brujas, all the ceremonies and dedications and incantations and proclamations, everything that starts with the word. And how the word gains its power by being spoken and handed to the next person and how what we write will last longer than our skins, our poems are the truest husks of our former selves.” ~ Rachel McKibbens
In the Beginning, was the Word…
I love words. I love stories. I love swimming in the tides of language and diving deep in order to surface with some insight or idea that is completely unexpected, new. I find out what I know, what I am pondering, what makes me curious, what helps me tick, by coughing up words and watching them take shape.
Some use a paintbrush. Others dance Flamenco or a pas de deux, limbs intertwined and balanced, feet moving in tandem. Some rise up and speak the words of others. Some sing or play instruments, watching the notes float toward heaven, fireflies circling the warm sky.
I am a writer, a scribe, a raconteur, a storyteller, a poet.
Stories help us bloom. Stories make us human.
I love stories because they open a portal to our interior lives. We learn to understand each other — or at least try to — as we fall through the page. We can revisit the past and dream of the future. We can meet monsters and slay dragons and beat the odds alongside our plucky protagonist, our omniscient narrator, or our unlikely hero. We see our best and worst selves mirrored on the page. We loosen our grip with certainty and find wonder. We mask our shadows and dance with better angels.
For me, everything starts with the word.
I write about my life, not because I think my life is more fascinating that anyone else’s, but because writing provides me with the camera — the lens per se — through which I experience and capture my life.
I think most people have captivating stories to tell. Ask them sometime and you’ll find it’s true.
I, for one, want to know that my experiences are echoing outside the bell jar of my life. I write and send my words out — like messages in bottles — hopeful that some kind, wayward soul will pick them up, open them, and find solace in knowing there are other like-minded scribes who relate to them and their particular circumstances. There are others who wonder about the cosmos, and sacred love, and the science of stardust. Others who translate their lives into words, into fierce incantations and incandescent prayers.
“If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.” ~ Peter Handke
I write because when I do, I find out what I still need to learn. I believe in the power of language to transform darkness, misunderstandings, sorrow, and loss into something of terrible and sometimes quirky beauty.
I write to inscribe my soul with all that I want to experience. I write to give myself a means to let my inner child run free. When I write, I climb out of the cage I often sit in and I watch the sky.
Sometimes, I rest my hand in the water of my dreams and listen to the waves beneath my boat.
Other times, I count my blessings and unpack the beat-up suitcase of mistakes I tend to fret over.
Those of us who revere words, savor them, waking and sleeping. We rest in a nest of words and wake up with their tangy scent on our hands.
Our Stories Define Us. Our Stories Can Save the World.
I believe we need our stories now, more than ever. They contain our collective past and our collaborative future. They house our voices, our subtle wishes, and our most urgent prayers. They tell us who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.
Yes. Everything starts with the word. Everything.
We sketch our stories, hands callused and dirty, ready, always ready to see them march across the field of our collective consciousness. We write them down, we see them there in black and white, and suddenly we know ourselves more deeply. We see the road not taken. We know what we must do.
Shavawn M. Berry’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Huffington Post, elephant journal, Journey of the Heart: Women’s Spiritual Poetry, Olentangy Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Vagina – The Zine, Rebelle Society, The Cancer Poetry Project 2, Kinema Poetics, Kalliope, Poet Lore, Westview – A Journal of Western Oklahoma, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Concho River Review, North Atlantic Review, Synapse, Living Buddhism, Blue Mountain Arts/SPS, and Poetry Seattle. Her technique essay on the dramatic monologue/persona poem is featured in a poetry database published in 2013 by Ebsco Publishing. In 1998, she received her MPW in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where she specialized in Creative Nonfiction and Memoir.
Ms. Berry teaches writing at Arizona State University where she just completed a 2013 Lincoln Ethics Teaching Fellowship. You can follow her on Facebook or read more of her work on her blog. A portfolio featuring a selection of her essays, blog postings, and prose is available at Shavawnberry.contently.com.