The first thing I tried to do in the months after losing my mother was to write a poem. I found myself turning to poetry in the way so many people do – to make sense of losses. And I wrote pretty bad poems about it. But it did feel that the poem was the only place that could hold this grief.
I want to be the best advocate and promoter for poetry that I can be.
My mother was murdered by my step-father, my brother’s father, who was also named Joel, twenty-five years ago. Whatever sadness or burden I’ve been living with since then, my brother’s also been living with, but he’s lived with the added burden of having the exact same name as our mother’s murderer.
Few remember that the battle of Rorke’s Drift was fought on the same day that the British Army suffered its most humiliating defeat at nearby Isandlwana.
As much as we love each other, there is some growing difficulty in my adult relationship with my father. Because we’re both writers, we’re having a very intimate conversation in a very public forum.
Having a child is sowing the seeds of your own obsolescence: birth is the fuse that leads to that other thing. You appear, you replace yourself, you die.
I think the biggest thing that I have to do is to remind people that poetry is there for us to turn to not only to remind us that we’re not alone – for example, if we are grieving the loss of someone – but also to help us celebrate our joys. That’s why so many people I know who’ve gotten married will have a poem read at the wedding.
To me, charity often is just about giving, because you’re supposed to, or because it’s what you’ve always done – or it’s about giving until it hurts.
I think people turn to poetry more often than they think they do, or encounter it in more ways than they think that they do. I think we forget the places that we encounter it, say, in songs or in other little bits and pieces of things that we may have remembered from childhood.
Actually, I think most people accept the existence of qualia.