A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

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Poet Heal Thyself


A research study of older adults in New Zealand demonstrated the power of writing in the healing process. The study assigned two groups to write about their lives. The first group was asked to write about a traumatic event, how they felt about it at the time, and to share thoughts and emotions they had never expressed. The second group wrote about their plans for the next day with no mentions of their feelings. The researchers took small biopsies of their skin and photographed the wounds to see how they were healing. After 11 days, the 76% of the people that hard written about their feelings had fully healed compared to only 42% in the other group.

This study completely fascinated me because it provided credible evidence of writing as a way to heal physical wounds. I know from personal experience that writing can heal emotional wounds. I started writing in late 2004, about a year after my father’s death in a car accident and the end of a 10-year relationship. Reading a book of poetry by Edna St Vincent Millay triggered the outpouring of emotions that I had kept to myself. Many studies have shown the benefits of writing for physical and emotional well-being. In fact, a recent article reported that Pierce Brosnan–Remington Steele and James Bond–is writing poetry to cope with the grief of his daughter’s death. However, writing about pain and grief doesn’t make you a poet; only when you aim to share that experience with others can your writing benefit the greater good. As James Baldwin once said, “your suffering means something only to the extent that people can attach their suffering to yours.”

In his craft talk at Cave Canem, Chris Abani posited, “all writing comes from an existential wound.” In his mind, wounds are not to be confused with suffering—to have a wound is not the same as being wounded. Abani believes that recognizing a wound is the key to opening up everything. The narrative of the wound becomes the story we’re telling—it is the driving force behind why we write. As poets, writing from a wounded place can bring more than self-healing. When our writing speaks from that existential wound, we can connect to others in a deeper way and be the catalyst for healing ourselves as well as our readers.


How Poetry Can Change Your Personality

Take-Your-Poet-to-Work-Emily-Dickinson-coverOne of my favorite bloggers, Patrick Ross at The Artist’s Road, reviewed the new book Creative You: Using Personality to Thrive by David Goldstein and Otto Kroeger. The book breaks down creativity across the sixteen personality profiles found in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI personality profiles are a combination of four dimensions:

1) Direction of Energy: E(xtroversion) or I(ntroversion) – E’s prefer to attend primarily to the outer world of people and things, whereas I’s prefer the inner world of ideas and thoughts

2) Tools of Perception: S(ensing) or iN(tuition) – S’s are interested in applied and pragmatic endeavors whereas N’s prefer more abstract and theoretical endeavors.

3) Tools of Judgment: T(hinking) or F(eeling) – T’s are more interested in a technical-analytical approach to life and F’s are more interested in the communications-relationship aspects of life.

4) Lifestyles: J(udging) or P(erceiving) – J’s prefer a lifestyle that is more structured and decided and that allows them to bring closure to things, whereas P’s prefer a lifestyle that is more flexible and adaptable and that allows them to continue to gather new information

From the time I took my first battery of personality and career-interest assessments in college, my MBTI has been INTJ. These letters roll off my tongue as easily as my childhood home address. They are engrained in my brain like the product of 8×7 (56!) has been since 2nd grade. My boss is a certified MBTI consultant and gave us the assessment in February 2011, where I was once again, INTJ. Fast forward to June 2013–four new people at work and another opportunity to take the MBTI, where I was an INFJ. A what? When did I become a F?

I certainly blame poetry for the transition (seamless as it was). One of the major differences between T’s and Fs is this: T’s believe telling the whole truth is more important than being tactful and F’s believe being tactful is more important than telling the “cold” truth. As a poet, I certainly believe in the words of Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Poets are more concerned with the big T universal truth and sometimes have to change the facts to reach that goal. I guess creative non-fiction writers like Patrick are INTJ’s because their work has to find that balance between the big T and the little T of truth.

Here are a few more insights about INFJ’s

  • often have deep interests in creative expression as well as issues of spirituality and human development
  • they live for insight and imagination, and they move freely in the inner world of ideas
  • have a love of learning and they are typically academically inclined
  • their great powers of concentration can make them excellent researchers
  • often have facility with the written or spoken word, and with foreign languages, and reading is usually a source of great joy for them

Ok, so maybe the INFJ shoe fits. What’s your MBTI type?

The real MBTI cost $150 to take, but Personality Pathways offers a cognitive style inventory that approximates your MBTI preferences.


Happy Double Life Anniversary!


It’s been a year since Poet’s Double Life joined the blogosphere. A few quick stats (because that IS what I do): 95 posts over 3,000 views from over 20 countries! I’ve posted mostly about how I maintain the creative side while having a full-time career in the non-literary world. For me, it boils down to the three R’s:

1) Reading: Keeping the brain fed with other good writing is the primary way  I maintain my creative side. I’ve had several posts on the books that have found their way off the library shelves and into my hands.  I’m currently reading two books that came highly recommended: a young adult sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game, and a poetry collection by Carolyn Rodgers, How I Got Ovah. Reading helps me maintain inspiration, even when I have trouble writing.

2) (W)riting/Revision:  These two R’s go hand-in-hand. Having several writing spaces in the Triangle helps me find the necessary solitude to get my ideas on paper. Though I often carry my poet’s notebook, having an iPhone handy is another way I jot down ideas that come to me. Writing challenges and prompt, such as the November and April poem-a-day challenges push me to produce on a daily basis and have resulted in plenty of clay to shape into better poems. Critique groups also help improve my work by letting me understand how trusted readers hear my work.

3) Reach: I am true to myself as a poet when I am getting my poems out in the world. I attend at least one open mic in the Triangle each month to read poems and connect to other writers. This past year,I’ve taken the plunge into publication by submitting my work to various contests and literary journals and have been happy with the results (see Transit of Venus, Poetry in Plain Sight,  to name a few).

Thanks for taking time to follow my double life adventures. I appreciate your comments and support.