Brianna Wiest grew up on Long Island, where going to the beach was a daily activity in the summers of her youth. She remembers her mother holding her by her hands as a child, letting her scraped shins dangle in the sea.
“Mama said salt water heals,” Wiest writes in the closing poem of her latest poetry book, “Salt Water.”
The piece finds Wiest reflecting on how the difficult things that help us grow, from sweat to tears, are also made of salt water.
This intersection of emotional wisdom and the duality of humanity and nature is at the core of “Salt Water,” which was released Wednesday. The book is available online and at Realm and Reason, 213 W. King St.
Wiest studied professional writing at Elizabethtown College and served as editor-in-chief of the school’s student newspaper, earning her degree in 2013 after three years.
The 25-year-old has amassed a following for her articles on the website Thought Catalog. Her work often addresses mental health issues and emotional intelligence, the ability to identify and deal with one’s feelings. She works as a writer and copy editor for Fine Living Lancaster, and is a regular contributor to various national publications, including The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue and Allure. She founded the website Soul Anatomy and has written sponsored content for products like Smartwater.
No interest in poetry
Her foray into poetry was more of an impulse than a planned career move. Ten years ago, she wouldn’t have expected to ever write a poem for fun in her life. She didn’t connect with lessons in iambic pentameter in school, and she found the assigned poetry readings less than inspiring.
That shifted once Wiest asked her fiance for a copy of poet Rupi Kaur’s bestseller “Milk and Honey” as a Christmas gift last year. Wiest was taken by Kaur’s ability to communicate a thought in sometimes just two to three lines. She found inspiration in other poets as well, from R.H. Sin to her friend Chrissy Stockton.
On a whim, she tried her hand at the free-form style while writing in Passenger Coffee one day. There, as she overlooked King Street, Wiest wrote up to 50 poems in a day.
“I usually find that when I start, I can’t stop. … It is much easier for me to pitch and write every day now than it was then,” says Wiest, who lives in Lancaster. “It’s not a well that runs dry. It’s like a muscle that strengthened. I feel the same way about this. I started a little bit, and then I could keep going.”
The format may have changed, but fans of Wiest’s work will find a similar thread of self-help sentiments throughout “Salt Water.” Some poems were messages from past articles she condensed and clarified to present as a poem.
Others were born from fresh inspiration. One contemplates the notion that stars have “soul mates,” a concept she read about in a book by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Wiest believes the poetry collection’s overarching message is to recognize one’s own potential.
“The big theme of this book is internalizing your power,” Wiest says. “It’s not giving it away to other people. … If you subscribe to society’s ideas of beauty, you’re externalizing your power. If you’re waiting for someone to hand you the book deal of your life, you’re externalizing your power. If you’re waiting for your soul mate to come so you can be happy, you’re externalizing your power.
“You have to tap into it on your own and go after it yourself,” Wiest continues. “I believe in that very strongly.”
Wiest practices what she preaches. She’s already in the early stages of writing two books: a long-form self-help book about subconscious self-sabotage, and an interactive journal with prompts. Neither project has a set release date.
Wiest isn’t ruling out the possibility of writing another poetry collection in the future. In fact, she’s not ruling out the possibility of anything.
“I definitely learned the only limit to my potential is my mind,” Wiest says. “Honestly. What changed between three years ago and now? The only thing that changed is what I thought was possible. … The only thing that shifts is what I think can happen. If I think it’s possible, I can do it.”