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Munachimso Agwa

Grade: 11

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Scott Parsons

The Hidden Worlds Within Poems and How to Find Them

Personal Essay/Memoir

The Hidden Worlds Within Poems and How to Find Them

I can't quite remember how my love story with poetry began. I imagine that it's because I was born with it lying dormant within me, and it was only a matter of time until it was catalyzed by the beautifully written poems out there. I have a special reverence for the works of poets from all eras; they captured and created a variety of cultural and personal atmospheres for me to venture through. For me, poetry is a sort of meditation. It offers me a chance to be still and absorb the creativity of someone else. There is something communal and sacred and ancient about this literary form that catches my attention. Poetry is visual. Poetry is rhythmic. Poetry is musical. Poetry is moody. It can be gorgeous and revealing and messy all at once. Poetry is communal and sacred and ancient like prayers. It can easily be memorized, unlike chapters in a novel, and passed on verbally. Poetry is the first to break the 'rules,' and forge a new path in the literary world. Poetry is therapy. Poetry is connection. Poetry is mourning. Poetry is celebration. It is fascinating how we have found ways to do so many things with so few words. It is marvelous how we have overcome the limits of language and made words colorful. Poetry is the language of the soul.

This June, I picked up Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver on a whim. I remember being wholly consumed by the simplicity and elegance of Mary Oliver's writing. I was fascinated by her meditative admiration of the natural world, and I wanted to cultivate the serenity she spoke about in her work. For that reason, I read most of her collection outside. It only made sense that I join her in her celebration of the grass and the trees and the insects and the streams. Her poems filled me with a light that I had been searching for amid the intense darkness of the global pandemic. Ending each day with her poems helped me see the world as beautiful again. Her poems did not encourage me to be ignorant of a hurting world, but rather helped me to grasp onto the last few shimmering strands of hope in the darkness. And then I realized that there were still quite a few strands of hope, and that it was up to me to remember that they were there. My relationship with poetry evolved in unseen ways during my days at home. I poured over the poems of Ocean Vuong, Audre Lorde, and Margaret Atwood. Their poetry was my refuge when everything felt too busy or too still. It was my way into heavier subject areas that were hard to face head-on. My deeper appreciation for poems in the past year grew out of my search to understand myself and others in more meaningful ways. For me, poems are a way of learning something new without that academic or clinical feel of scholarly discourse.

All poems point to a greater knowing within us. They address a larger suffering, a deeper meaning, a more vivid existence. I know myself better when I read poems. Some poems ask me, what are you longing for? Others ask what are you hiding? Some poems don't assert any particular notion onto me but simply sit on the page, not with the goal to induce delight, but to simply live as the remnant of a poet's masterful pen. It sometimes feels like such very sparse writings weren't supposed to incite my wonder, but I am brought to the edges of my psyche by some poems, and I don't always understand how words on the page can do this. If you are patient, with yourself and the page- you too can experience the terror and the bliss of letting a poem impale you. There is a peculiar joy in allowing yourself to be devastated by poetry. You will be left expanded, yet crushed, yet wanting more from the poets and poems that you find stirring. Artistic pangs of hunger will plague you until they are sated by whatever art form speaks to you. Poems are the liminal film that separates the real and imagined world. I am rarely left unsatisfied by compelling poems.

A hidden world lives within each poem. A world we can join, but just for a moment. The term "stanza" that describes the different sections of a poem is actually Italian for "room." When I see poetry in this way, every title becomes an unlocked door for me to slip through and enter the room which a poet has furnished. I can walk from room to room and catch glimpses into others' internal conversations. I can hear their queries and their arguments. If I approach every stanza like entering a room, I am present in the poem and can find my way across its floorboards. These are only the first steps to unlocking the worlds between each stanza, yet they are the only steps you will need. The poem that you enter will eventually enter you, and then you can venture from place to place with rich new worlds to thematically explore. There is so much unmapped, rugged terrain inside you, teeming with the possibility of discovery, so let me not take any more of your time and let you get started reading.


Beneath the Bark: An Essay on Authenticity and Delight

Personal Essay/Memoir

Beneath the Bark: An Essay on Authenticity and Delight

What I love about nature is that it doesn't try to convince me of anything. It simply is. I love that nature is most beautiful when it's not trying to show off or compare herself to me. She's not jealous of me, and I don't envy her. She invites me into this space where we both flourish. There's something spiritual about that. About losing track of the hours, watching tadpoles dance between lily pads under a waterfall of petals from a nearby family of Rhododendrons. Nature doesn't try to make her life look exciting on social media. Nature doesn't care what my ACT score is. She just cares that I'm there. That I'm breathing and adding to her ecosystem.

Visiting Holden Arboretum during the summer felt like the shock of an AED, putting my heart- my life- back on beat. Dwelling among the trees in the canopy walk gave me the time to rest and recharge, and going above the trees in the Emergent Tower made my anxiety feel small. Why do we avoid so much of what is natural? I think that so many things are unnatural. But while standing on that 180-foot platform (an unnaturally high height for humans), I didn't compulsively check my phone to avoid interacting with strangers or aimlessly scroll for something I'd never find. There is no "easy way out" in the middle of the woods. So I soaked up the view with the strangers, and someone even spotted the dull shore of Lake Erie from the deck's vantage point. The Emergent Tower's goal is to simulate the liminal space where birds soar, where every gust of wind, every movement, can be felt. Being that high makes every sound feel faraway. That distance keeps me present, and being present is the first step to being my real self. The world I gaze back down upon looks so still and flattened, and I am reminded of how gorgeous silence can be.

Not everything that is real is beautiful, but everything that is beautiful is real. And every square inch of that arboretum is alive and real and therefore enveloped with beauty. There is something so marvelous to be surrounded by unbothered life on all sides. We as people are attracted to life. I often daydream about turning the atrium into a botanical garden. It seems like the perfect place for the world's largest terrarium. I often think about how humans were supposed to live in proximity to nature and not in poorly designed concrete cubes. I've always wanted to plant vertical gardens on the 4 walls of my room so that my space is always filled with life, so it is filled with constant beauty.

I wonder what trees whisper to each other when nobody's listening, or if they say anything at all. Maybe their presence is comforting enough between them, so there's no need to talk. Do they make small talk? I hope not. I hope I never get good at small talk. Or at least I never enjoy it. I hope that strangers can cry in my arms and that we can leave tear stains on our t-shirts and let them dry in the golden ribbons of sunlight that tie the skies together. This is the difficulty but importance of authenticity. It is real. It is alive. It is beautiful. Authenticity doesn't try to convince you of anything. It simply is. I love that authenticity is the most beautiful when it's not trying to show off or compare herself to me. She's not jealous of me, and I don't envy her. She invites me into this space where we both flourish. And there's something spiritual about that.