POETRY BREAK | Mississippi Poet Laureate Catherine Pierce

Poetry Break
Catherine Pierce
Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK

Could you travel time, advise your younger self with poetry?

It’s nearly summer—a time for slowing down, looking up at the sky, and letting our minds wander. Daydreams can take us anywhere, including into the past. On these long, slowed-down days, I often find myself imagining what it would be like to go back in time and talk to a prior version of myself.

It’s not that I have any desire to muck with the past; I just enjoy the idea of shooting the breeze with an earlier version of me and saying, “Hey, guess what we’re up to in the future?” Sometimes I like to think about reassuring my younger self that she’ll get through a particularly difficult time; sometimes I imagine how surprised and glad she’d be to learn about, say, our sons, or our job, or the fact that we did in fact take that cross-country road trip we’d dreamed about all through high school. Sometimes I think of questions I wish I could ask her.

Poetry—like all writing—can be many, many things, including a form of time travel. It’s true that I can’t actually zap myself back in time, but in a poem, I can come pretty close (and without messing with the space-time continuum).

This Month’s Poetry Break: Letter to Your Past Self

Think about a particular time in your life and who you were then. You might choose to address yourself at eight, or sixteen, or forty. Make that your poem’s title (for example, “Dear Self at Twelve”).

Now consider what you’d like to say to that prior version of you. Aim for two questions you’d like to ask, five bits of advice you want to give, and five details about your current life that you think your earlier self would be especially interested or surprised to know (and of course feel free to vary this structure however you like). As always, be as specific as you can, and don’t be afraid to blend the good and the bad—just like our lives are rarely 100% wonderful or 100% bleak, a poem about our lives will likely include both positive and negative details.

Example:

Dear Self at Twelve
It turns out you never do get a horse.
But you get a house full of kind and hilarious people
and a small, cheese-obsessed dog.
Here in the future you eat catfish, and crab cakes, and shrimp.
You stand at the front of classrooms, you ride rollercoasters.
So why are you scared to swing the bat at softball practice?
What are you afraid will happen if you strike out?
Listen—failure now is fuel for future stories.
Don’t be intimidated by the girls who tease you at recess—
in a few years you’ll have forgotten their names.
Wear sunscreen.
Try pineapple.
Don’t watch Poltergeist yet.
I know your worries wrack you;
I promise someday they’ll quiet.
That you’ll swing for the pitch your son tosses,
and send the ball soaring into the soft twilight sky.

There’s something both comforting and satisfying about this kind of time travel—think of how far you’ve come, what you could teach your prior self, and even what your current self could learn from that earlier version of you. Enjoy this invented conversation. Write your life.


Catherine Pierce is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi and the author of four books of poems, most recently “Danger Days”. She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s