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Poetry and Marriage: Two Things I Thought I Loathed

Photo of married couple holding hands.

I’ve lived my life with the preconceived notion that marriage is merciless and malevolent, but it turns out I may have been wrong.

I never would have guessed that attending poetry events would teach me about the joys of married life, but in the course of learning more about this creative outlet, my eyes have been opened to other new ideas, as well.

Our opinions are shaped by our experiences, and since my exposure to marriage and to poetry had both been unsatisfactory, I’d always harbored negative feelings about both.

The small amount of poetry I’d read felt forced, flowery, and fake. It felt as if the poet were wrapping life into a perfect little package. It bored me because I just couldn’t relate. Life never occurs in a perfect package. It isn’t all roses and sunshine.

My opinion of marriage, which was formed through my own experience growing up in a broken home and through friends’ childhood experiences and later their own marriages, was that marriage was an exercise in broken promises and shattered dreams. It broke you emotionally, financially, and sometimes even physically in the end (and it always seemed destined to end). It was putting your future in the hands of someone else, over whose actions you had no control. At best, it was a giant pain in the ass.

I never wanted marriage. I never dreamed about my wedding day or my future husband, not even as a little girl. It was never something that figured into my plans, or even entered my mind when I thought about my future. I thought that in being someone’s wife, I would lose my identity and myself.

I love my life as a single person, and although, yes, it sucks to not have someone to share it with, the alternative was a high-stakes gamble I was never willing to make.

Lately, I’m beginning to consider that poetry isn’t dull and marriage isn’t awful and I wasn’t able to believe this before because I just hadn’t had the right exposure to them.

That has slowly been changing and culminated the last February when I went to a lovely poetry series event put on by the Hibulb Cultural Center. The guest poet was Shann Ray. I read his 2015 novel American Copper when I entered the Knickerbocker Prize, a novella competition for which he was the judge. I decided to enter the contest because the subject matter of his work was similar to mine. Because literature is so subjective, I thought he might enjoy my story and take to it, even though it wasn’t outstanding,

I didn’t win, by the way, but I don’t hold that against him, since he probably never even saw my entry and only read the top four or five submissions as evaluated by the initial readers. Also, to be honest, my submission wasn’t ready and it wasn’t good.

I enjoyed Shann’s novel and was looking forward to hearing his poetry. When it was time for the event to start, a beautiful blond woman with a cheerful smile and a guitar entered the room. This was not Shann Ray, but he followed her in.

The woman, who was jovial, engaging, and a general delight, was his wife. She greeted and spoke to everyone in attendance, asked us questions about our lives, made us feel welcomed, and even passed out hugs at the end! She also sang (beautifully) and played guitar…at a poetry reading! This was unusual and pretty awesome, but I’ll tell you why it really made me happy.

Not only was she the perfect sidekick to a writer on tour, who is busy with preparation and in their head, and probably an introvert and not all that comfortable talking with people (although Shann didn’t seem to have that issue), it was the devotion to each other and to their mutual success that made them such a dynamic pair. When Shann was reading, Jennifer sat attentively and smiled adoringly, even though she had probably heard him say the exact same things a hundred times.

When she sang and played, Shann turned to face her and gave her his full attention, even though he had probably heard her practice and play those songs more times than he could count.

They talked a little about their relationship and how they had given each other a list of their favorite books to read, which is a wonderful way to learn about someone’s thoughts and beliefs. I’m pretty sure they said that they also read aloud to each other, which I think is just about the best thing ever.

They’ve been together something like thirty-three years, but they acted like young lovers, excited by the intrigue and possibility of the other. Their interaction and their pairing of their own unique talents made what would have been an average event, extraordinary.

At the end of the evening, those in attendance had the opportunity to recite a poem. I didn’t have a poem prepared, so I told about how I was a reader, but didn’t read poetry until last summer when I was doing a reading challenge and a book of poetry was required. I went to the library and perused the poetry section, not having any idea who was good or what I would like, if anything. I saw a book by Sherman Alexie and figured that since I loved his prose, I probably couldn’t go wrong there.

His poetry was real, and raw, and gritty, and hilarious. He used profanity and he broke the rules. I didn’t think I would enjoy reading poetry, and it never occurred to me that I would enjoy writing it, but I thought if that’s poetry, then I wanna do that!

I have since been experimenting with writing poetry, and although I still barely understand it and my stuff isn’t very good, I’m loving it and it is liberating having another (and very different) tool in which to express myself. It isn’t at all what I had thought it was.

My first glimpse at the notion that poetry could be exciting and that marriage could be magnificent happened several years back.

I have a writer friend who is also a kick-ass singer/songwriter. I met him in 2010 while doing a writing program at UW. I related to him right away because we were the only two blue-collarish people in the cohort oddly made up primarily of (somewhat intimidating) executives, doctors, and attorneys. Also, his writing, which was quirky and dark, amazed me.

In April of 2013, I went to see him play at a National Poetry Month event in Tacoma. This was my first ever exposure to spoken word poetry and it was flipping amazing! His music was the perfect interlude between the raw emotions expressed by the poets. It was magical.

A year and a half later, I went to a house show in West Seattle that he was giving for our group of former classmates from the writing program. I was introduced to his new (since seeing him last) girlfriend. This is how I remember the story of their meeting:

She was a fan of my friend’s music and had a huge crush on him and really wanted to meet him but wasn’t sure how to make an introduction. When she heard one of her favorite poets was going to be touring nearby, she quickly (in like a week or two!) organized a poetry event in a town not known for its literary arts patronage, and invited my friend to play, not knowing if anyone would even show up.

I showed up, and so did enough people to completely fill the venue to standing room only. It was a huge success, and over the course of the planning, the details, and rehearsals, she met and got to know my musical friend and the rest, as they say, is history.

I knew their relationship was special when, at the West Seattle house show, she sat right in front, her face beaming with adoration as he played his set.

They have since married, finished college, embarked on new careers, and exciting creative endeavors. All the while they have supported and encouraged each other. The two of them together make each one better. Witnessing their mutual love and affection is a delight for the eyes and the soul.

I like to catch his shows when I can to support him, and also because I genuinely love his music, but my favorite part is when I look over and catch a glimpse of her watching and smiling from the crowd with that look of joy, pride, admiration, and most of all love on her face, and him, up on stage, sending it right back.

I usually feel compelled to make that stick-my-finger-in-my-throat-because-I-want-to-puke gesture when people start talking about marriage, but when I learned this pair was getting hitched, I was happy, because when it’s right, it’s right. I knew their marriage was going to be something exceptional because they are each other’s champions and biggest fans.

Through the examples of these two marriages, I see that marriage can be a partnership in which both parties are supportive and encouraging (emotionally and creatively) in whatever endeavors each chooses, and each inspires the another to be more than they thought possible, while not losing who they are, but being enhanced by the strengths and talents of the other.

If that’s marriage, then I wanna do that!

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