I often think back to when I first encountered poetry. I was about 6 years old and had just started first grade at Le Lycée Français, an international French school in Los Angeles. I had never had homework before, as they only started giving it out in first grade. So when my French teacher announced to the class that we would have to memorize and recite a poem of her choosing every Friday, I was both nervous and curious. Intrigued, I raised my hand and asked Madame Renoir, “qu’est-ce qu’un poème?” (“what is a poem?”). Amused by my innocence, she proceeded to read beautiful combinations of words I couldn’t quite understand — but I fell in love with the rhymes, the rhythm, the emotion, and the discursive nature of poetry itself. I didn’t know why it existed, or how anyone could understand the content, but I knew that I had discovered something very special indeed.
Fast forward a few years to 10 year old Brianna, and I had been reciting poems every week for four years, honoring the words of Jean de La Fontaine, Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Aimé Césaire, Racine, Jacques Prévert…etc. I was becoming quite the poetry aficionado, scoring 20/20 on every recitation, perfectly enunciating and inflecting, I had fallen deeply in love with this new language. It was like a secret code, a complex problem that could be interpreted differently after each reading. I was entranced.
In 6th grade, I was assigned to write my own poetry in English class. Not any different from my six year old self, I raised my hand and asked, “But Mr. Kennedy, what should we write about? I’ve never written a poem before, how do I do it?”. What I didn’t realize was that I could write about anything I wanted, and that there was no right or wrong way to go about it.
And I chose to write about my depression. And I shared it with the class, after everyone had shared their poems about trees, sports, traveling, and their pets. And I was deeply embarrassed. But I had discovered a new way to express myself, a way that I understood more than anything else in my little bubble.
So I went home and I wrote. I filled up journals with poetry, pages smeared with blood, drawings, scribbles, and calcified salt deposits. I didn’t show anyone anymore, because the more I wrote, the more honest I became with myself, which meant my words were pretty grim. I learned a lot from a very young age, and grew jaded quickly.
In High School, I wrote sophisticated shit — I analyzed my life and the absurdities I experienced. I wrote about love (or so I thought it was love), and I wrote about things I didn’t understand. I wrote about suicide because it was on my mind. And I wrote about nearly dying, about hospitals and doctors and trauma. But I was less honest with myself in High School.
I didn’t write as much my first semester of college, I was happy and in love so I lived life instead of writing about it. But once I experienced real heartbreak, I retreated back to the only think I knew: poetry. I spilled my heart out; I cut it open and dissected my feelings for what they were. I learned about myself and my limits — but I disregarded my limits, I went past them and discovered my middle school self again. I hadn’t changed a bit; I was just as empty as I had always been. I was just as alone. But poetry helped me realize that it was all okay, because the emptier I felt, and the more honest I was with myself about how I felt, the easier it became to accept life as such.
Poetry was and will always be my shoulder to cry on.