One reason why I find it more difficult to write poetry these days has to do with my inner emotional state. The problem is that I’m basically happy. Oh, I have my moments, but from a day to day perspective I’m more relaxed, more on an even keel, than ever before in my life. A lot of this has to do with Lana, but it’s also because I’m more established in my job, and also because I’m older. I don’t know about you, but I remember how “intensely” I felt everything when I was young, especially as a teenager, but even into my late thirties and early forties. I burned with anger, rioted with joy, drowned in unhappiness.
For whatever reason, although some of it is surely due to the aging of my biological response to emotional stimuli, I don’t feel things as strongly as I used to. For the most part this is a good thing. My moods are not as mercurial as they once were. I don’t let little things bother me as they once did. But for my poetry this has been a problem. Almost all of my best poetry has been written while I was in a state of emotional uproar, especially at periods when I was angry or sad.
If I were to place writing along a continuum from most emotion-laden to least, I would list them this way: Poetry – Fiction – Nonfiction. I believe that nonfiction can be written from the intellect alone, and, in fact, I’m often suspicious of nonfiction that is strongly emotional in tone. With nonfiction, I want the facts, and I know that emotions strongly color the interpretation of facts. Fiction without emotion, however, is a waste of time.
I 've read plenty of nonfiction that engaged no emotion in me other than curiosity; I've enjoyed these books. But if a fictional story doesn’t involve me emotionally in the first few pages I will drop it like a struggling diver drops a weight belt. Emotion by itself, however, isn’t enough in fiction. I need to have my intellect engaged too. There must be some logic to the tale, even if only an internal logic.
In contrast, the enjoyment of poetry, to me, involves no need for intellect at all, outside of being able to understand the actual words. What I need is the raw emotion on the page. I need that emotion to come through even if I don’t get the “meaning” of the poem. I can even enjoy a poem in which the imagery evoked is largely cliché, as long as I can feel the author’s joy, anguish, rage. This is why I can like a lot of the poems that I see on the internet from young writers. They may not even realize their imagery is common; all they know is that they feel, and they have to express that feeling or explode.
What do you think? Is poetry the purest emotional writing there is? Do you think that your own poetry has changed as you’ve aged because of changes in your emotional experience? Can you still enjoy a flawed poem just because of the emotional strength of it? I wonder.