Doren Damico

My Wordsmith Journey

I consider myself an apprentice wordsmith.  I seek to share what I have seen and know, mere prose unworthy of the depths of my experience; poetry the form and feel of my yearning.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

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My ears hear the keening
Of countless voices
The world-song wailing
For everyone dying
The joyous sound of hope
For everyone born
Do you hear it?
Death
Change
Sunrise

from “Delicate Flower Dying Slowly”

The beginning of my wordsmith journey was largely influenced by childhood hearing problems.   Early chronic hearing loss resulted in my developing a strange babbling that I thought of as language, but which others couldn’t understand.  

This condition had a very interesting influence on my interpersonal and intra-personal skills. I could take minimal auditory cues, facial and body expressions, and combine them to understand people.  I developed a heightened sense of empathy.  However, I had tremendous difficulty making myself understood.  

I was also naturally musical. I sang as a young child and throughout much of my life.  I could hear music when I listened to people’s voices—not the specific clear delineation of words—the rhythms, inflections and dynamics of expression.  I could hear the world-song: how the trees breathed, the symphony of sky and sea, the tumultuous beauty of culture, the surreal synesthesia of all existence.

For me, language was poetry.

Where Does the Story Begin?  Where Does it Go?

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Where to next? she breathes
For here there is no home
There no sure companion
Misery and joy
Still there is the fog
The dusty road
Birdsong and morning glow
Curiosity’s creaking bones
Solitary wandering

from “Solitary Wandering”

I remember when I first began to read. Suddenly, words were everywhere.  I loved them and I hated them!  Street signs, billboards, store aisles, business names, clothing brands, bookshelves and more, intruded into the sacred space of my mind.  Words could not be ignored, the letters demanding pattern recognition and sounding in my head, clamoring and competing against my thoughts, against other visual stimuli.  I hated my newly acquired environmental literacy.  So many dead words!  I mourned, knowing that my ability to read could not be turned off.  It overwhelmed me and I bent my logical and curious mind to the task of taming the chaos.  

I became an avid reader of books.  I was mostly interested in fantasy and science fiction, the hero’s fantastical journey.  In the worlds of books, words flowed into story and story became dreaming, cascading images and adventurous escape. Words were no longer thieves and intruders.  They were rivers of meaning, my imagination a boat upon their currents.

IMG_5653If I wasn’t reading, I was walking and singing, climbing a tree and pretending I was a bird. Words were fish I caught in my heart and spit out of my mouth on rivers of melody into butterfly sails.  Words without music were dead. Words with music became multi-dimensional, alive like the world-song I could always hear.  I was a lyricist before I was a writer.  

In school, where my singing was misunderstood or not allowed, words on the page became a new kind of music, my tools for creation, my imagination unfurled. My pencil scratching on the page was the most quiet way for me to pretend I was a bird in a tree.  I drew birdsong and surreal descriptions, playing with rhythm and rhyming, telling tales of the paranormal in every assignment.  I discovered I loved to write!  

Outside of school, I wrote random musings, phrases and lyrics.  Thin sheets of paper lay scattered about my room like loose feathers that drifted into corners here and there.  I joined a garage band, weaving my private musings into songs that were shared, applauded, collected into wings.  

But I didn’t really fly until college.  There, my words gathered into complex layers in rounds and choral compositions.  My fingers discovered a computer keyboard and it was as if my mind were set free.  Finally, I could express my words swiftly, communicating complex thoughts and theories.  I could reorganize and revise my vision into expository lyricism, control the varied rhythms of sentences, the shapes of words, craft beginnings and endings from the center outward.  The dead framed billboards that had intruded on my world when I was so young, were now lovely concentric circles expanding from the center of my mind. 

How Do You Know You’re A Poet?

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Rainy Saturday

Rainy Saturday
Clean out the garage
Or write poetry?

It was haiku that told me I was a poet.  I discovered haiku in college, about the same time I began folding paper.  Origami was peace I could mold with my fingers.  Haiku was play with words, a best friend. I could never turn my back on her.  She would never walk away from me.

When I became a teacher, I tried to share this discovery with my students.  If they could find the joy of playing with words, they would one day learn the power of the pen.  Haiku required a crystalized awareness of words, syllables and ideas into finite form.  It was an incredible exercise for young writers!  

Even though most of my time and writing were constricted by the demands of my credential work and teaching responsibilities, I tried to embed poetry assignments into every unit of study. As I wrote example poems for my students, I felt more alive. When my students completed poetry in artistic displays, gifts and publications, I saw the same beautiful brightness in their eyes.  

purple tearMy job delivered me to Hell’s gate.  Poetry helped me navigate the rivers of the underworld.  I didn’t have enough time to write the lengthy stories that were growing in my heart, unplanted in the barren terrain of my busy circumstances.  But I could pen a poem as respite from the work, and for a moment see flowers blooming.  

Toward the end of my time teaching in the classroom, I began attending weekly open mics. Fridays were my day to unwind and release the tensions and disappointments I experienced in the education system and the torrential pain of suddenly losing a good friend.  I began creating poetry and songs simply for the joy of performing them for free at an open mic.  I handcrafted a collection of haiku into a book of paintings and calligraphy.  I fell in love and spent a year holding my love in a secret journal of love letters and poems, which quickly became 4 journals!

13094097_1076216955772875_1092910086627698657_nThe venues also exposed me to a rich celebration of artists, like me, seeking expression in poetry, story and music.  I was inspired and began writing even more poetry. One afternoon I got the news that my mother had a terrible diagnosis of cancer and prognosis of 2-6 months to live.  I started smoking cigarettes again to cope with many stresses in life and at work.  Poetry and songwriting were my only outlet while I managed work and visiting my mom as much as possible during her last days.  Eventually, I decided to submit some poems to an anthology, and experienced the pleasurable rush of seeing my poetry printed in Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles .

Why Not Plant a Tree?

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Ashes

Dark silhouette
Reaches illumined night
Shadow figures scurry
Wriggling red roots
“Fire!” screams the colony
Wings scatter ashes
On winter trees like snow

One day, I had a seed idea for a set of themed poems I wanted to collect into my first poetry publication.  I’d title the series, When You Can’t Scream…Or 10 Reasons Why I Smoke.  The title was a seed that would blossom in ways I couldn’t have imagined!  It was incubated in the darkness of silence and abandonment, scalded in the trauma of rape and my mother’s death, and nurtured through art. 

Poetry speaks of all conditions, material and spiritual.  Poetry screams from my voice, through the reader’s voice, through time.  It takes the twisty lyrical path of my insides, and peeling me inside out, the seed breaks open and new life sprouts, reaching for the light.  

My book would be an exercise of compassion.  I would turn my sorrow into soil and write sunlight on my own field of flowers.  I would walk away from the teaching life and boldly along the artist’s path.

Model: Teresa Mei Chuc Photo: Judith Foster Thompson

Model: Teresa Mei Chuc
Photo: Judith Foster Thompson

As the project developed, it grew to include photography, and eventually expanded into an intimate memoir and exposition on cigarettes, the tobacco industry, and mental and emotional wellness.   I met an amazing poet, Teresa Mei Chuc, and asked her to model for the signature poem: “10 Places to Go Scream.” Teresa invited me to attend readings in New York and I now had a deadline for the publication project.  

This led me along the path of promotion.  It was here that I decided to develop my website, to fill its windows with writing, poetry, science fiction and music.  I wanted the website to be a home for my artistic endeavors and a source of motivation and information for artists. 

I began several writing projects to include a short scifi novel, “The Unraveler’s Star”.  In the process of seeking an editor for the novel, I met a woman who asked me what I liked to read, assuring me that what I chose to read would highly influence my writing.  The question was like an avalanche, setting off an insatiable desire to read more and more authors and poets.  I read to be inspired by others. I read to find myself.

There are many poets in the world, and yes, we’re all unique.  But I was eating poetry for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Each new poet I encountered inspired me to explore new poetry and develop my poetic voice.  Sometimes, that meant trying on others’ voices, like in my poem, “what if for dinner,” written in the style of Shelby Cook.  Sometimes it meant defining my own voice which wanted to not only orate but sing.  How could I bring music into my poetry?  How could I master haiku?  

IMG_5525The book was completed in July 2016, and as I published, I realized that my poetic voice had indeed evolved and improved.  Now, I have to keep evolving, keep eating poetry, keep writing.  I humbly accept that I am a wordsmith apprentice on a long journey.


I’ve always felt like a stranger wherever I wander.  Somewhere along my aching journey, I discovered a deep preference for the solitary life.  I enjoy people and I’m a loner. I find inspiration in the art and artists I encounter, then retreat to my creative space.  It is as if, though I have learned to hear, learned to sing and orate, to perform the social dances, I prefer the quiet center of my creative life.  I live to sit alone with my computer, fingers tap tap tapping words into the ether.

My Wordsmith Journey

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A wide river
Still lake
Cascading waterfall
Mighty ocean depths
My body
60% water
All poetry

The wind
An intricate feather
Fine tendrils weaving together
Creating wings
My breath
60% over
All poetry

Nest in a tree
Spirit seasons
Woven with words
Cradling dreams
My wishes
60% lucky
All poetry

Tectonic plates
Forming mountains
Cool black microphone
Amplifying words
My heart
100% in love
With words