Grief and Bereavement During the Covid-19 Pandemic
An interview with Landmark social worker Mary Ann Stetz, MSW, LSW
Gene Breault, a designer and educator, started writing poetry after age 45. Now, at 76, he has written nearly 2,000 poems. Breault says, “I started by recording some ideas and feelings—and that morphed into writing poetry. It is as a form of self-expression, a way of freezing a moment or an impression.”
Breault says, “For me, starting to write poetry later in life was a way of dealing with that particular age. Middle-age felt like a whole new life, a new era, with things happening differently. Poetry was one way to sort out those feelings.”
Breault’s poetry is short and free verse. Most of his poems do not rhyme or follow a set structure. He sometimes uses punctuation and word spacing to create visual patterns on the page.
For Breault, writing is a habit, but not an obligation. “Sometimes all I write is one word. Other days, a complete poem comes out, or I revise what I’ve already written. Some people say you should write every day, but to me it’s not a business; it’s a way to express a thought or feeling. There are periods where there are no poems. It doesn’t bother me. Later, the light bulb goes on, and I start writing again.”
Learn about yourself.
Breault writes his poems for a one-person audience—himself. He says, “I write just for me. It was many years before I gave poems to anyone to read, even my wife. You don’t always know what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling until the words are on paper. Then you read it and you ask yourself, ‘Do I really think that? I didn’t know I felt that way.’”
Breault says part of the magic of poetry is to see things from a new angle. He says, “We, ourselves, are on our side. Our eyes can’t see our eyes. Our teeth can’t see our teeth. Unless you take a subject and make it an object through writing, painting, speech (and so on), you can have a hard time knowing what you think or feel.”
How to get started writing poetry.
Breault says there are no prerequisites to getting started with writing. “If you have the inclination to write poetry, don’t wait until you get books, or take a course, or go to the library, just write. Once you’re writing, you’ll get an idea of where you maybe need some help. Then, when you seek a book or a teacher, you have an idea of what you’re looking for.”
He continues, “Successful writers have said things like, ‘Enormous numbers of good writers have been destroyed by going to writing school.’ That also applies to painting, and composing, and all the rest. If artists gain skills and use those skills to emulate teachers, they may not be satisfied with what they create. There’s nothing wrong with emulating. That’s good, you learn a lot, but the resulting work may not apply to your feelings at all.”
“Picasso and Van Gogh—they didn’t paint like anyone else. They each had their own unique style. And when you write poetry without training, it’s not going to be like anyone else’s work. It’s going to be like you. We already have a Walt Whitman and a Mary Oliver. What the world wants to know, if you feel like sharing it, is what YOU are, what your feelings are, what your impulses are.”
Can I try new creative things, even at my age?
Breault says that if you have an impulse to do anything creative, you should do it, no matter your age. He says, “There is importance to doing that. Acting on your creative impulses gives you satisfaction that you’re doing something you’re supposed to do. And it may help you get in touch with who and what you are. Spend time trying to watch who you are. Watch your mind, watch your thoughts, then get it down on paper.”
“Try whatever you have the impulse to try, and that includes everything, like painting, or building furniture or carving. Jump in and just do it. If you’re 85 and you want to try watercolor painting, start doing watercolor! Maybe up until now, you didn’t have the desire, or the time, or the money. If now is the time to do a thing—then now is the time to do it.”
Breault says, “People tend to think they can’t start. But they can. Have the confidence that whatever comes out will be good. And you will progressively get better. There are no short-cuts. But, of course, you can do it. You’re maybe just afraid to try, or afraid to fail. But that’s not being fair to yourself.”
To publish, or not to publish…
Breault has not tried to publish his poetry. He stores them in his office for his family to read someday. “My kids will get a pile of binders,” he says, and laughs. “You know, Emily Dickenson only published one or two poems in her lifetime. She didn’t become read or well-known until after she died. And if that happens to me, that’s all right.”
trees embrace life
as it comes to them –
are perfect trees
unabashedly – assertively
what they are
not in any kind of isolation
because they contain
all the interactions
wind, fire, earth, sun, water, rock
all the relationships
wind, fire, earth, sun, water, rock
that shaped them –