A Mask Creates Whitespace

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the taste of words. Not synaesthecially, not the way I love the taste of a good meal, but the way words feel in the mouth and in the waiting to be spoken. Which isn’t why I started writing poetry.

I started writing poetry because I didn’t know it was a special thing to do. I grew up among books, seeing the written word as equal to the spoken before I realised the world expected boundaries. So I read: I read prose, I read poetry, I read joke books, I read cereal packets.

And when I wasn’t reading, I was living in stories, telling jokes, and being me. But – unlike the roistering boil of a usual childhood – I wrote some down because I didn’t know writing things down was special. And some of the things I wrote down were poems.

I continue to write poems (and other things) past the point of childish things because I love words and the way they fit together. The way a sign changes when you move a line break. The way words that rhyme don’t usually have a connection. The way you can find a connection between words that rhyme that explodes into an entire new universe. The way this story has the feeling it does because I chose this style rather than a bulleted list.

But my pretence of enjoying poetry, the face I wear when I write to be seen, has changed over the years. When I was a child I liked what I liked, and gave no thought to how often I poeted or the division between creating and experiencing. Passing into youth, I donned the mantle of intellect, reader, SmartKid™ that was fluttered before me: I read to the bounds of enjoyment and a step beyond because reading difficult things was what my tribe did.

And, line by line my soul stretched.

But so did the satrapy of my pretence. It wasn’t enough to read difficult things; I had to create them too. If an acquaintance could write a love poem, my target must be to write a poem in a classical verse-form.

And – while failing in both aesthetics and lust – I found joy in the challenge, in making words more than a simple expression, in going (however poorly) beyond speaking pleasing phrases by accident.

In which I found my calling: the infinite majesty of not merely I, but I-and-Other weaving threads of language into instances of truth. I became a lawyer.

For what is more poetic than law? Each word weighed for finest meaning, each sentence designed to show a precise glimpse of reality, each statute the randomness of future realities wrought into the most formal of structures.

And what is more poetic than this? To make ten paragraphs out of liking to play with language and a youthful longing to seem as clever as people thought I was.

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