I was eight years old when I tried to write a poem for the very first time. We were just learning how read and write in school, and my teacher asked us to write a short composition. I remember how I reluctantly put pen to paper and drafted some verses that looked more like doodles than text. The topic was about spring, and I wrote about the little things that help you realize that the warmer season has arrived: the chirping of the birds early in the morning and the first bloom of the spring flowers.
Back then perhaps I did not realize it fully, but it was my way of noticing and reveling in my own happiness at the beginning of spring. Those simple rhymes were my smiles and laughter whenever I saw new life coming out of the winter cold.
I can connect every poem I have ever written to a memory and a feeling. When I had my first crush, I was too embarrassed to talk to him directly, so I would turn to my notebook and write. Reading these poems a decade later might be a bit embarrassing, in the way you feel when you’re forced to watch childhood videos. But at that moment, they captured my feelings and helped me process them.
I remember a summer sunset in Seoul, years later. Walking slowly beside the river, until the sun fell under the waves. The nostalgia for my town, and the love for that big metropolis that had welcomed me so warmly. And the realization that came with finally being a “grown-up.” The image is so vivid and colorful in my mind, with the hues of red and orange and the specks of cobalt at the edges.
After coming back home, I sat down on my bed, and tried to think about the reason why it was so clear in my mind. I mulled over it and I could not figure it out. I finally drew my pen and painted that summer sunset the one way I knew would help me. As I stopped to choose the right words, the ones that would build the right rhythm for the main picture, the feeling became clearer to me.
It is a bit like painting. You have to mix the colors on your palette until you get just the right hue for the sky. In the same way, you mix and pick different words and sentences until they form the exact rhythm of the feeling you want to convey. Having to choose them carefully, you are made to evaluate them and think of why one word better suits a context than another. That precise nitpicking is the one that I always found useful, especially when in doubt about what exactly I was feeling. Whether they were negative or positive, poetry has always made my feelings easier to understand.
I remember a cold winter night in Harbin, the snow flurrying around me in a deadly storm, the wind trying to scratch over any exposed patches of skin. I remember feeling lost and powerless, in a world that was too big for an 18-years-old me.
When I put down the pen, the page in front of me was full of doodles and words scratched off. The finished poem lay in front of me. And instantly, I felt very light.
To me, writing poetry is a cathartic process that starts with a picture, and helps me let go of feelings. A bit like when you do yoga and the instructor tells you to relax and let all the worries leave your body.
This what writing poetry feels like.
Letting the words wash away anything that was being kept inside me, and releasing them in another shape, ink on paper.
I have been writing poems since I was eight, and I’ve never stopped.
As long as I am living, breathing and feeling, I don’t think I’ll ever stop arranging words in short compositions.
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