Kimberly Ramos is a queer, Filipina writer from Missouri. They are currently an undergraduate of philosophy and creative writing at Truman State University. Their work is published or forthcoming in “Southern Humanities Review,” “Jet Fuel Review” and “West Trade Review,” among others.
A Good Poem Holds Someone
by Kimberly Ramos
The first time a poem really enraptured me, I was twelve. In a thin, gray-paper
anthology of poetry, I read Sylvia Plath’s poem, The Night Dances. It made me riotous and cosmically dizzy. I felt the warmth coming off me like Plath’s
comets, bleeding and peeling all over the place. When you’re twelve, it’s hard to
understand that other people feel things as strongly as you do. You think you have
some sort of special claim on emotions. But Plath was my way into someone else, an
admission that there were other people who felt like they were always coming apart
and spiraling into “the black amnesias of heaven.” It was the first poem I memorized.
I no longer think Plath is someone to idolize. While I sympathize with her lifelong struggle with mental health, much of her poetry conveys a tension between romanticizing mental illness and satirizing that very romanticism. It is all too easy to read her poetry and believe that suicide is something beautifully terrible. Elsewhere in poetry, she compares her personal suffering to that of the suffering of Jewish people in the Holocaust despite having no actual ties to the Jewish experience. But Plath is a poet in a very human way: she falters, she thrums, she invites the reader into her small square of experience. And though I think the humanness of a poet ought to be tempered with considerations of the poet’s identity and the space they occupy, Plath was the first poet who showed me how to be unapologetically emotional. The Night Dances is rapturous in a way that shows Plath was not merely someone with mental illness—she was someone who felt things incredibly deeply, and sometimes, too deeply.
I didn’t have the words to describe what Plath gave to me when I was twelve until recently. Poetry is a magic of sorts: it transforms both poet and reader. It opens up cognitive spaces and imaginative possibilities that would not otherwise exist in traditional prose. It makes a bridge over the “fathomless abyss” of individual experience. I can’t know what it is like to be you, but if you offer yourself up in a poem, I can almost cross the abyss to reach you. Poetry is the recognition that we are all bleeding and peeling, but also the intention of sending that warmth through the black amnesias of heaven to find someone else. I cannot take away suffering, but I can put a metaphorical hand on your forehead as I brush the hair from your face. I can tell you that I am here and I will hold you. I have come to believe that a good poem holds someone.
A good poem can do other things, too—it can rage and yell. It can ask you a question. It can float upwards like a prayer. It can sit next to you in comfortable silence, and sometimes, uncomfortable silence. But when I am most inspired to write poems, and when that inspiration yields something I’m moderately proud of, I commonly find that the poem was written with an intent to hold someone.
At night lying on the concrete driveway of my childhood home, I want to hold the sky. When a song bursts through my bones, I want to hold a lonely person’s hand and spin them as we dance. In the tall grass of the creek in my neighborhood, I want to hold a minnow. When I am feeling myself leave my body, I want to hold someone by the shoulders like a tether. Space yawning above us, I want to take your wrists and say here, here. We’re here.