I’m a Digger. {poetry}

A friend called me up a month ago and invited me to a poetry share at his house. Cool! But then I got off the phone and realized I had nothing to share.

Had I ever really even written a poem? At that moment, a poem started forming in my head as I was driving. As soon as I got to my union meeting, I started writing it down and kept working on it even in the bathroom. That poem became what follows. I’ve been writing compulsively since then.

I never really liked poetry. There were a few poets who had an impact on me, but mostly poetry seemed pretentious and empty. There were so many unnecessarily obscure words, which irritated instead of impressing me, and once decoded, they didn’t mean much. I think most poets use fancy language either to hide the fact that they have nothing to say or because they lack the courage to say their meaning nakedly.

I always loved songs. Jimi Hendrix’s Castles Made of Sand made me cry in third grade. I really get off on the sound and experience of music, but it’s always been the lyrics that touch me someplace deep.

I’ve been in bands and written songs. Over the last few weeks of writing free verse, I realized that my favorite part of being in a band had always been the songwriting. I only knew my song was deeply true and good if it made me cry while writing the words.

So I’ve been getting really into writing. It involves way less gear, fighting, and weekend commitments than being in a band. But I basically have the same approach to writing poems as songs. My style is influenced way more by Jimi, Bruce Springsteen, and Max Cavalera than Byron, Shelley, and whoever. I say my meaning in the most accessible and precise way I can.

I think ideas and feelings stay most charged and impactful when carried in the simplest and clearest language. Those words are little bombs. Sometimes I have to encode my meaning into uncommon vocabulary because I need the words that are most exact. So be it. Form must serve essence. That’s all.

This is how it works for me: I get an idea that feels very powerful to me. It could be an insight about myself, something I want to remember about how to live well, or maybe an emotion I need to feel gets activated. Until recently, I would just keep the idea in my head or jot some notes in my journal. But now I go into the idea and write a few words to express it well. I stay in the idea and see where it wants to lead me.

The act of writing the idea down is important for at least three reasons.

First, writing the words helps me keep a train of thought, lets me stay focused on where my imagination is leading, helps me stay in the idea.

Second, each word I write is like laying another plank in a road into the unknown, lets me get a little deeper into myself, gets me to different place and perspective. I keep laying that road, bit by bit.

Finally, writing the words down is important because I can retrace my steps to that place inside that was very special and meaningful to me.

So, my friend, I’m so grateful you called.  I have finally found a practice that really works for me to learn about myself, heal, enjoy my imagination, and experience the meaning of my own life.


I’m always digging
I don’t know why I can’t stop.

Maybe I always want to know what’s underneath.
Or maybe I’m never satisfied with what I see.
There’s got to be more.

Sometimes I see a glint down there
or imagine what’s below those
unremarkable surfaces
and then I just can’t help it.
I dig. I’m a digger.

You can always uncover a new space.
Sometimes it’s bright under there.
Maybe part of me knows that the only way out is through.
Maybe there’s another sky down there.
So I dig.

Often I want to go wandering out wide
and sometimes I do.
But mostly I dig. Intently.
I’m getting somewhere.
Maybe a wiser part of me knows
the greater adventure is to go in, inner, in-est.

“Sorry, I’d really love to see you tonight
but, um, actually,
I have this really important digging thing I have to work on…”

Maybe I can’t help digging through the past,
piled up and decomposed.
I extract nutrients,
organic matter reduced to elements
that can become new life,
old materials to combine in new ways.
I find artifacts
that can help me see my way backward
and forward
at the same time.

Maybe some part of me remembers that,
while I’ve tried so hard to build myself a
certain way,
the real me
was already built perfectly
but got buried long ago,
and its excavation is now an emergency.

Or maybe I’m really just looking for a simple home,
A place to plant myself.
Maybe my secret is that I’m a seed

So often I ache to rise
to new heights.
Instead I just keep digging down deeper.
But maybe a wiser part of me knows
like a tree does
That you can only reach higher if you stretch deeper.

Maybe I’m digging a well.
Maybe I’ll strike the aquifer beneath all forms,
feeding each variation into being.

And one day,
after a lifetime of digging,
if nothing else
I’ll have a grave
and I’ll crumble into it,
graceful, grateful.

There’s dignity and purpose in digging it yourself,
starkly aware
that is what you are doing.


Ben Gallup is you in a different human suit. He teaches (and learns) in Seattle Public Schools, plays music around town, and exults in existential turmoil. You can see more of Ben’s work at Be Bolde, Be Wyse.


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