Why I Write Poetry: Ren Powell

A few months ago, I posted about “Why I Write Poetry” and encouraged others to share their thoughts, stories, and experiences for future guest posts. I’ve already received so many, and I hope they keep coming in (details on how to contribute below). Thank you!

Today’s “Why I Write Poetry” post comes from Ren Powell, who writes, “I began writing to save my life.”

Ren (Katherine) Powell is a poet, playwright and translator. She is a native Californian, settled on the west coast of Norway. Ren has published six full-length collections of poetry (and more than a dozen books of translations) with traditional publishing houses. She hosts the This Choice podcast.


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Why I Write Poetry: Ren Powell

Ren Powell

It’s strange that, even after feeling like a “grown-up” for years, something can alter your perspective. I thought I knew why I wrote poetry, why I have more poetry books (and books about poetry) than I can probably read in what is left of my lifetime. I’ve known that I have a need to communicate with the living—and with the dead, I suppose. I have a need to attach myself to the world somehow. But after listening to an interview with Roxane Gay last week about how trauma in her adolescence shaped her relationship with her body, a realization surfaced: trauma in childhood shaped my relationship with words—with poetry.

I began writing to save my life. 

I was about 9 or 10 when I tried to tell someone what was happening to me. I reached out for help, but didn’t know the right words. When I used the word “rape” it was mirrored back to me in explicit, violent, penis-in-the-vagina detail. Wrong word. I stopped talking. I was confused. My experience was so at odds with what the world was telling me was true, I felt I didn’t belong inor tothe world. Reading was a search for verification. Then a way to learn the right words. And then, I began writing. 

The ability to communicate gives a person power over their own circumstances. But it’s more than a matter of vocabulary. Some things can only be conveyed through metaphor. Metaphor transforms the craftsmanship of naming things into a leap of understanding that transgresses language, and brings our experience full circle from the unspoken, through the spoken, back to the unspoken—richer for the contact we’ve made. We send a threaded needle into the unknown, trying to pierce the other—and when it works, it loops into what we can’t see in them, and it pulls them toward us. Us toward them. It bonds us. It’s a way to hold on to one another, to the world.

Poetry can save our lives


If you’d like to share why you write poetry, please send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwmedia.com with a 300-500 word personal essay that shares why you write poetry. It can be serious, happy, sad, silly–whatever poetry means for you. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.


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7 thoughts on “Why I Write Poetry: Ren Powell

  1. tripoet

    I couldn’t sleep last night having just returned from Prague and being jetlagged. I read this in the very early morning and was struck by not just why you wrote but why “we need” you to write. After reading your essay at least six times, I went to look up your work and read your bio. It fit so perfectly that you are a poet and a mentor. I feel elevated through your shairng. Thank you. Blessings, Annie

  2. Marie Elena

    This made me gasp. So sorry for what you had to endure. So thankful you find your true self in your writing. Thank you for your open and honest response to Robert’s question. We need more of this in our world.


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