Caidyn Bearfield finds a way forward through grief with ‘Iniziare’

The Columbus poet will celebrate her debut chapbook with a reading tonight (Monday, April 29) at ‘Plas Food + Drink.
Caidyn Bearfield
Caidyn BearfieldCourtesy the poet

Caidyn Bearfield said the poetry she wrote as a teenager tended to be impossibly bleak, her words deeply reflective of her struggles with depression and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. But at the age of 21, in the midst of a bad breakup and just months removed from the death of her best friend, Kristin, Bearfield realized she needed to find a different way forward.

“I remember being like, this is bad bad,” said Bearfield, 23, in a late April Zoom interview. “And if I’m going to continue, I need to remember there are things worth continuing for.”

This arc is captured in the poet’s debut chapbook, Iniziare (Italian for “to begin), which Bearfield will read from in an event beginning at 7 p.m. tonight (Monday, April 29) at ‘Plas Food + Drink. The poetry collection opens with “Schrödinger's Ghost,” in which Bearfield wrangles with the death of her friend, who continues to live on in the text message thread existent on the poet’s phone. It then closes with “How to Turn Anger into Hope,” an instructive poem that captures a sense of the weather breaking and dark clouds giving way to at least intermittent light. “Sub out the perfect for the present,” Bearfield writes. “Love it anyhow.”

In between, the poems traverse the past and present, Bearfield confronting everything from her economically depressed childhood (“Suburban Jurisdiction”) to the importance of mutual aid to a community’s collective survival in a world overrun with megaphoned Monopoly Men, as she writes in “Aubade on Departure.”

The poems in Iniziare started to take shape in the spring of 2022, following a two-year stretch in which Bearfield didn’t write much of anything at all, having set aside even her journaling practice amid her accumulated relationship and mental health woes. “There have been on and off times when I didn’t journal, but I’d say anytime I’m healthy and feel like myself, and I’m engaged with the community, I’m carrying a notebook,” she said. “And as soon as I started journaling again, I had 15 poem ideas, and it was like, ‘Oh, right. This is how I work through things. I have to get it out [in the journal] and let it be messy, then I can go back, put the craft in, and make it an actual poem.’”

Bearfield was helped along early in this process by a writing workshop organized by poet and educator Su Flatt, first attending a session helmed by Zach Hannah and centered on the concept of incorporating levity when writing about grief, which in light of her experiences felt like a sign from the larger universe. Following that first workshop, Flatt and Hannah invited Bearfield to open mics such as the now-defunct Writers’ Block and the Poetry Cauldron, which introduced the poet to a community that served as further balm.

“I had been feeling so lost and lonely … and finding a group of people who I shared values with, it was like, ‘Oh, my God. I can exhale,’” Bearfield said. “And that helped me to settle into the idea that there were still important things worth pouring energy into. … I’m still the person who as a kid was picking up worms from the sidewalk and putting them in the grass. And I had felt for so long that I had all of this care and nowhere to put it. So, I was pouring it into bad things – not evil things – but people who weren’t ever going to do anything with it.”

Within the Columbus poetry community, Bearfield discovered a place more deserving of this care, while the practice of reading her work aloud each week had a deep impact on her writing, breaking open her concept of what a poem could be. “It’s not as rigid [a form] as I previously thought,” she said. “In fact, it’s not rigid at all.”

Bearfield grew up with a deep fascination for language and a natural inclination toward writing, recalling how she penned a single-spaced, 150-plus page book at age 10 or 11. Always a voracious reader, she gravitated heavily toward memoir, drawn in by the access each writer allowed to their inner world. 

The poet traced this interest in part to her upbringing. Her parents divorced when she was an infant, and through early adolescence she split her time between strikingly different environments. “They were two houses with different vibes and different thoughts on religion and such,” she said. “And that primed me for the idea that everyone’s experience is different, which fed into this idea of really liking memoir and how different people think and feel.”

Entering into fifth grade, however, the sense of relative normalcy Bearfield felt shattered amid a new round of divorces, compounded by the death of her cousin in a 2012 mass shooting at Chardon High School. “I didn’t know him, but the timing of it really changed my worldview, and there was this shift to not feeling safe in the world,” the poet said. “The first funeral I ever went to was for a school shooting. … And then I kind of saw this rippling through my family, while also all of these divorces were happening, and people were trying to figure out what to do with me and what to do with my siblings.”

In the aftermath of these experiences, Bearfield said she came unmoored for a time, eventually clawing her way back owing to a deep resilience that exhibits itself throughout Iniziare, a collection the poet described as a launch point.

“I’m only 23,” she said. “I feel like I’m still experimenting and figuring out what my voice can be. I had to come to terms with the idea that I don’t have to wait until everything is figured out to do something about it. There can be a progression over time. And I’m giving myself permission to do that.”

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