I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the power of words lately. I’m re-reading just about everything written by Seamus Heaney, immersing myself in the poems again, but also in one of his seminal works, The Government of the Tongue. I’ve written about Heaney before on my blog, and I likely will again because he is a guiding force for me in a poetic, creative and imaginative sense. I guess, though, that I’m pondering how it is that words weave us so closely together, even when we haven’t met. . .or if we haven’t heard from a friend in a long time and receive a note or email. How can so few words, strung together into sentences on a page or screen, make us feel connected, even after years apart, or at least having been at a geographical or emotional distance of some kind?
I had a rubbish-y week last week. No doubt about it. Some health struggles. Some blips in my universal GPS. Some ‘oh, crap, what were you thinking?’ conversation going on inside my mind. Come Friday afternoon, though, I wandered into the main office to find a fat envelope in my mailbox. Seeing the writing, I flipped out with glee. Here was a package from Dr. Jack Healy, who had been my M.A. thesis supervisor, on Heaney’s poetry, back in 1994-95 at Carleton University in Ottawa. I knew, without opening it, that it was to do with Heaney’s death. Only Dr. Healy could understand how close I felt to Heaney’s poetry and philosophies. I ripped open that package and found three wonderful books, and an article reflecting on Heaney’s life.
The letter was handwritten. I miss that. So very rarely do we see letters on paper, with ink that seeps into the fibers and marks itself with a sense of permanence. Why not, I wonder….In any case, hearing from Jack was like hearing from an old friend. It has been too long and I don’t know why we do that to ourselves as humans. . . how we leave people we honoured and learned from behind in our lives in favour of ‘new’ ones. I think we need to cultivate and honour those older friendships and connections, and writing letters is one way to do it.
The next reflection on the power of language and words comes from my participation in a writers’ circle. I’m meeting with a group of five women every Tuesday night and we just think, write and share our work. Having to show up to that circle every week keeps me focused on my creative writing, which often takes a backseat to things like school work. It also means I need to come prepared to honour my gift, and to bring work with me to the meetings. It’s a commitment to myself, and to my soul’s work.
Then, on the way home, I stopped off at The Fromagerie (yeah, you guessed it….they sell exotic and otherworldly cheeses!) to buy a copy of my friend Ric deMeulles’ new novel, Hickey’s Dead. I feel honoured to have read through some of his initial work and now I have the finished novel in my hands. I’m so looking forward to reading it this weekend.
So….all of these facets of language…and of how our relationships to the written word really do extend far beyond the ink on the page. Sometimes, I know I forget how amazing it is to be able to write down a story or poem, but it takes my reading someone else’s work to be amazed at the power of language. Heaney would speak to that, how language (and poetry especially) has the power to change a person’s life, both personally and politically. I also think of Susan’s MacMaster’s work on poetry and peace. We, as poets, have the task of shedding light on injustice. We cannot simply write love poems or pretty floral pieces….we need, instead, to point out places where the darkness lives, and then we need to let the light shine in and dispel the dark. I know, I know, it sounds biblical, but it makes sense.
Anyway, these are my two cents tonight, before sleep, regarding the power of language—to connect, question, debate, rebel, inspire, transform and transcend.
So, until we meet again (Lawrence Welk?!), spend some time reading a poem or two. You’d be surprised by the beauty and the revelation.