How I Came to Voice
Updated: May 23, 2022
I went to college unsure of myself. I had been driven underground by my own family, told again and again I was wrong, ugly, and stupid, until the only recourse I had was dancing, expressing myself in movement to music, and then I got sick and almost died. To survive, I had to reinvent myself, and my only recourse was paper, like one of my all-time heroes, Anne Frank, who could only be her true self in her diary. I wrote to affirm my existence, to prove to myself I had worth, to leave a record of my thoughts and feelings in case the cancer that was supposed to be easily cured did, in fact, kill me. The extreme treatment I had which ultimately saved me could also have destroyed me.
When I enrolled in a poetry writing class at the University of Rochester, I met my first very important woman writer and teacher, Mary Cappello. The poems I wrote were potent mixes of loneliness and despair, but with a persistent sense of vision, my sense of self as a female artist, dedicated, even as a shy unknown, to plying my art, to singing my song, even in its hesitancy and trembling. I was awed and overjoyed when Mary not only saw me for the person I was but read my poems aloud to the whole class, praising their fine qualities. I had all my life been punished for having a voice, for trying to speak up for myself, and now here was a professional writer who recognized I was smart, I had talent, I was worth something. My college roommate, Maya, was also in the class, and she was a beautiful child of hippies, who dressed very artfully, listened to 60’s music, and hung with cool people; if anyone was born to be a poet, it was her. I was the loner who never left the dorm except to go to class or to the library. But from a roomful of undergraduates, Mary had picked me: just for one day, one afternoon seminar, but it was enough. Mary’s recognition of me planted a seed, which I would care for and grow, despite past drought and oncoming hostile weather.
Mary Cappello's Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, to be reissued by Fordham University Press, Spring 2021