Origins, Part One
When I was six years old, I fell into a coma.
I was out for about two weeks, but when I awoke I discovered several things:
- A packet of letters and flowers from my kindergarten classmates wishing me to get well.
- A room full of strange doctors.
- My memories had disappeared.
- My voice had disappeared.
The earliest thing I can remember was being in the coma. It was dark, except for a tiny pinhole of light right in the center.
Sometimes I would sleep a dreamless sleep, but sometimes I would wake up, be aware of myself, and I would be there in the dark space.
It is not like being in a dark room, it is more like being immersed in dark water. It is both claustrophobic and comforting.
My mother tells me that before the coma I was not shy and quiet, I was gregarious, I was naturally very social. After the coma, that changed. My voice didn’t seem to work correctly, I knew the words that I wanted to say, but they didn’t come out right or they didn’t come out at all.
The nurses taught me sign language and I received speech therapy afterwards and I got to a point where I could pass for “back to normal.”
Except I wasn’t, but I didn’t discover that until much later.
These early problems with speech and language making is called aphasia. It is a common side effect after a coma, but at the time of my coma, they did not understand as much about it. Some people do not recover from aphasia as well as I did. Some people’s voices are still trapped inside themselves long after their comas.
Some people’s aphasia also effects different language making capacities. Some people may not be able to write a complete sentence, but they can speak it eloquently. Some can only type letters, but not draw them with a pencil. Some simply replace words or repeat words; others do not speak at all.
This early difficulty with finding a strong external voice made me two things:
1. Very good at reading (college level at age 7)
2. Terrible at penmanship and public speaking
And I experienced that all the way through high school and into college.
…Until, I discovered poetry.
You see, poetry’s line breaks teach you how to read the line, when to pause, when to lift your voice or lower it, and I discovered, that through a line break, I could read out loud a little easier. James Scully talks about the line break in Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. I will certainly be talking more about him later in the blog
And I learned that if I could read a line of poetry out loud easier than I should certainly be able to speak out loud a little easier if I thought of my statements as line breaks.
Of course, these lessons were not being made fully conscious to me as I was learning them, it was only recently that this became apparent of what I was learning.
So I studied poetry in college at the time because it was something I not only did well, but it also challenged me. I learned how to write it, how to read it, how to speak it. And thus, my voice became a poet’s voice.
About Nathan Deeter
Nathan Deeter received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Anchorage in 1999 and has been teaching English Composition at the same university since 2002. He also works as the Training Specialist for the Arc of Anchorage. His favorite poets are Stephen Dunn and Rumi. He travels by the light of those he loves and no light is brighter than the one coming from his wife, April. She makes him write things like that all the time, but he doesn’t mind—it’s in the job description of being a husband. He has a bionic pancreas and a spoiled dog named Daisy.