Wild River Review art by Christopher McCauley



SPOTLIGHT: Fly Me to the Moon — A Conversation with Mathematician and Artist, Ed Belbruno

COLUMN: Storiedmusic by DJ T’challah

AIRMAIL: Bodhi Blues — A Year in India by Jessica Falcone

NOVEL EXCERPT: Blood Grip — Chapter 2

REVIEW: Gulliver as Slave Trader — Racism Reviled by Jonathan Swift

Fire and Blood of Poetry


Most poets aim to write powerful poetry that will deeply affect their readers. To accomplish this poets have to be in touch with their own emotions, and more than that — they actually have to be able to feel these emotions fully. This can often be a very daunting challenge. Writing a poem about a sad or painful memory means going to that raw place inside and dwelling in the discomfort there. It means having to feel angry, frustrated, jealous, or afraid, fully in the moment.

For poets to put their innermost thoughts and deepest feelings on paper is a risky business. In our culture it is more the norm for people to deny much of their emotional experience. We often stifle our genuine feelings because we know that social mores will, more often than not, render them unacceptable. For instance, women in America have been socialized not to display feelings of anger. Anger has been deemed an inappropriate emotion for women to have. Likewise for men in our culture, displays of deep emotion are taken as signs of weakness and unmanly behavior. But if poets can’t feel deeply how can they write powerful poetry?

Poets have to struggle against this learned habit of shutting off their emotions. Only when they are emotionally honest with themselves can they tell the truth about how human beings feel and behave. Sometimes that means exploring excruciating childhood experiences or devastating love affairs — to find the courage to speak about these unspeakable things:

There is a pain—so utter —
It swallows substance up—
Then covers the Abyss with Trance—
So memory can step
Around—across—upon it—
As one within a Swoon—
Goes safely—where an open eye—
Would drop Him—Bone by Bone.

— Emily Dickinson

Not only do poets have to visit the raw, chaotic places within themselves but they also have to trust that that’s where a poem begins. They have to trust that the difficult process of going deep inside themselves will be a meaningful one. So now writing poetry becomes not only an act of courage but also one of faith:


Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

I love the way that sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness . . .

We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.

— Edward Hirsch

Faith and trust are words that have a spiritual ring to them. When poets are in touch with the source from which a poem springs they are in touch with their spirits. Writing poetry, then, can be described as a spiritual endeavor:

... What is precious, is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasures in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love,
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the Spirit.

— Stephen Spender

How do poets access this source from which their poems spring? To further their spirits and imaginations in creative play? To explore their dreams and subconscious minds? The French writer, Arthur Rimbaud advocated, “the derangement of the senses” so that poets could transcend ordinary states of consciousness and get in touch with their source of creativity.

In order to enter another state of consciousness and access their creativity, poets have to suspend the activity in the linear, logical part of the brain where the need to control and understand everything is located. Once the “chatter” from that part of the brain is put aside for a while the mysterious, nonrational impulses can have free expression and the subtle messages of spirit can be heard.

Robert Bly once commented, “I think writing poetry is a matter of agreeing that you have these two people inside: every day you set aside time to be with the subtle person, who has funny little ideas, who is probably in touch with retarded children, and who can say surprising things.”

Writing poetry from the depth and passion of the spirit takes a serious commitment to self and to the art. It provides a lifeline to a more genuine existence, to a truth that goes beyond the rational mind. Writing poetry is an act of bravery — remembering our real selves even when we move through the inevitable dark places in life.


To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

— Wendell Berry

Wendy Steginsky

Wendy Steginsky

Wendy Fulton Steginsky, WRR Managing Editor

Wendy Fulton Steginsky was born and raised in Bermuda. She found her way to the U.S. via Europe in the late seventies. She was a special education teacher for many years and worked most recently as program director at the Writers Room of Bucks County. She is currently Managing Editor of the Wild River Review. Poetry is her passion and she writes the column, “Fire and Blood of Poetry”. In September 2006 two of her poems appeared in Bermuda’s First Anthology of Poetry.

EMAIL: wsteginsky@wildriverreview.com

COLUMN: Fire and Blood of Poetry