Nearly five years ago, Marilyn Haight was winding down her career in the business world and decided she could no longer ignore her desire for writing.
The Peoria resident knew retirement would give her the time and opportunity to further her passion for poetry, an interest she had developed in the fifth grade but never pursued.
“There’s something about making a story succinct and conveying a certain message,” Haight said. “It becomes a challenge to know what can be left out and still convey emotion.”
From the “old-fashioned, sing-songy, rhyming kind” of poetry, Haight said the poems she began writing while taking classes at Arizona State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Surprise began to develop themes around growing old.
She didn’t know it immediately, but Haight said her poetry became a substitute for a journal in which she conveyed emotions of a retired woman exploring topics of aging and everyday life.
Many of the poems in “No One Ever Told Me: Poems for People Over Fifty,” are first-hand accounts of life during the past five years, though Haight said some are the result of keen observations of others while shopping, out to dinner, sitting in doctors’ offices and in the classroom.
The poems read more like snippets of life — Haight says they’re accessible — that anyone can read and understand. In other words, she says, one doesn’t have to be a literary genius to understand her poetry style.
While some topics of aging in Haight’s first published book deal with serious subjects, such as living in an aging body, dealing with ongoing loss and looking toward a future that’s shorter than the past, Haight said she tries to convey humor in them as well.
“Once you write down a story, it can seem humorous,” she said recently over a cup of coffee at New York West Pastry and Bake Shop in Sun City, one of her favorite hangouts. “Poetry gives you an outlet to express what you’re going through in life, and many times humor is part of that.”
Haight said many of the retired seniors in her poetry class could relate to topics centered on aging, explaining that the weekly poetry-reading sessions quickly turned into an opportunity for her classmates to share their own struggles of growing old.
“We created a community out of that, and everyone got to know each other on an intimate basis,” she said.
At first, Haight said she struggled with opening up about details about her life and was even reluctant to publish her poems.
But Haight credited her instructor, Jim Mitsui, who encouraged her to get published, as he and others believe the poems have a universal appeal since they deal with issues many will face as they grow older.
“The more personal a poem is, the more universal it becomes,” Haight said. “If people can relate to the poetry, get a laugh or become more knowledgeable about aging, then great. I hope they will get something meaningful out of it.”
Mitsui, who began teaching creative writing in 1968, said poetry is like a blank canvas and that it’s up to each individual to pursue writing about what moves and interests them. The Surprise resident said he tells all his students the end goal is publication.
“I think it’s really fulfilling for someone who’s older to pursue a talent that maybe they were aware of or unaware of,” he said. “Writing poetry sort of forces you back into your past and you recall memories. That’s a really healthy activity.”
To that end, Haight said she often loses time writing poetry focused on first-hand experiences.
“You can’t engage a reader without being part of it,” she said. “Poetry has to have a purpose; I never want it to become work.”
“No One Ever Told Me: Poems for People Over Fifty” is available from local and online bookstores. Visit www.marilynhaight.com for more information.
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.