Other than being a poet, I’m also a high school and middle school English teacher. A student asked me the other day what my “writing truth” was and it stunned me. It’s a funny phrase, “writing truth”, and it was an odd question, but I knew my answer immediately: the heart. Everything I write is from the heart.
Very often, I think I’m writing the same poem over and over again, but that’s just because the heart is where I operate from. Over the years, I’ve written poems about dystopia, poems about television pop-culture like Mad Men, Westworld and Game of Thrones, and I’ve written poems about feminism, politics and life in the 21st century, but within all of them is the heart. My heart.
In my course description, I quote Winterson’s famous line from The Passion, “Do it from the heart or not at all”, and I firmly believe that applies to poetry as well. It certainly applies to this workshop. At the heart of all we do is love. Whether we are writing about our family, our friends, our innermost secrets, our passions or hobbies, we are writing about love.
It sounds a bit trite, perhaps a bit of a cliché, but we’re in a time and place where love needs to anchor us down to earth, down to one another and down to ourselves. Otherwise, we risk falling into the chaos of this political climate. Love is about kindness, it is about appreciation and it is about being open and receptive.
I say, in my course description, that you do not need to be a romantic, a lover, or a dreamer, because this workshop won’t be about those things, but rather the self’s ability to locate the heart of the matter, the feeling, and the pulse of where we operate from: our truth.
There is so much despair and darkness around us in 2019. There are so many reasons to hide, to run, to shade ourselves from those feelings, but what I find beautiful in the world is art, is story, is poetry and is love. Those moments that take your breath away, those moments that make you stop and appreciate your life — those are the moments where the heart checks in with you and out comes a poem. What I love about poetry is its ability to make you feel, its ability to transport you, and, ultimately, transform you.
Sure, some of my favorite poems are love poems like John Donne’s ‘The Sun Rising’, Marie Howe’s ‘What the Living Do’, Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116’, Frank O’Hara’s ‘Having A Coke With You’, and Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’, but this is not because they are poems about love; rather, it is that they are poems which align me with the things I love, with the people I love, and maybe even the feeling itself.
It is my hope that people who take my course will be inspired to write about love, but really be inspired to write about more than just love, to use love as a vehicle to write.
When people ask me about my Game of Thrones inspired poems, I often talk about how surprised I was to write about a TV show, inspired by a series of books, that’s part fantasy, part saga, part romance and part violence. I have to say that inside each of those poems — take ‘I Want to be Stark [Like]’, for example — is a poem about the heart. In Season 1 of Game of Thrones, I was so drawn to Ned Stark and his role as a father and a husband, but what I was really mesmerized by was his role as a man and what he represented in his world: a man with a good heart. I wanted to align myself with him, with his goodness, with his honesty and with his love and loyalty. Yes, that is a poem that is nearly an Ode to the Stark family, but it is really a poem about the heart.
I guess this goes back to that student of mine I was talking about earlier. I know that everything I do is from the heart. Every poem I write, even in the new manuscript of political poems I’ve just completed, even in the darkest poems, is my clutch on the heart. In every pang and every torment, I am asking the reader not to let go.
I hope the poems, and the poets you will examine in this course, will inspire you to write from your own truth. After all, at the end of the day, it is our heart that keeps us, but it is poetry that lifts us up.
Explore writing straight from the heart and create your own masterpieces with Leah Umansky on her new online course, Only Love Studio. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.
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