Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Poetry in Emotion

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.


Bernita said...

My poetry has changed, yes.
I can enjoy a flawed poem if it has just one good line.

Steve Malley said...

Terry Pratchett wrote that children see the world in ALL CAPTIAL LETTERS. Maturity is learning to see finer and finer nuances, of situation, of emotion, etc.

While I don't write poetry, my appreciation of it has certainly changed. Same for modern poetry's incestuous twin, songwriting.

And I think your poetry *should* change as you age. It's not the same person writing it anymore, is it?

Otherwise, you run the risk of 'The Bon Jovi Effect'. The artist is like 35 years old, and the only emotional experiences they can express are still left back in high school...

Michelle's Spell said...

I loved this post. I think you're right -- poetry requires a certain opening. I can't force myself to write poetry. But I can force myself and sit there and work on fiction and nonfiction, inspiration or no, usually no in my case. I'm much more a laborer -- no muse for me or maybe I've alienated mine. :) But I still love the act of writing when it goes well and when it sucks. There's nothing like it. I feel really lucky to write in all three forms so that if one dries up, I can move around.

Lana Gramlich said...

I can't speak to poetry, but I was an insanely prolific artist right up until my long-time, crushing depressions finally lifted. It was agonizing, as though half of my being had been torn away, but I just couldn't engage that creative urge anymore. I gave it up (i.e.; it left me,) completely for 10 years & I only got back into it recently by force (although it's finally turned into enjoyment.) I've noticed that my work these days portrays more peace & serenity than insane, screaming RAGE, too.

Lisa said...

I've never written poetry, but I have experienced mild depression and for some reason, my most creative times do seem to coincide with my darkest. Now that I'm 46, I don't have nearly the emotional highs and lows that I did when I was younger, although real life is much easier this way! Why is it that many writers do have an easier time writing when they're miserable?

the walking man said...

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.

I don't know if it is the purest emotional writing because it needs be crafted too, there has to be a step away from emotion by the poet or it just comes out as abstract drivel, but a lot of poets do seem to be depressed and suicidal. A lot, if not most of the time I am emotionally detached from what I write.

My personal creative writing is a long string dating back to when I was 14 yrs. old whether it has changed or not I don't really know because until I met Dr. Brooks I never kept any of it. I know my perception of it has changed over the past 5 years and what it should be has changed to something of a higher understanding of what it should do for an audience.

I can enjoy flawed works of poetry yes, but I prefer to enjoy them with the writer there with me, to be able to engage in conversation about the flawed pieces.

The last two I posted are seriously flawed but I won't pull them, not because I don't particularly care for them but because they are what came out as I was waiting between appointments.



Chris Eldin said...

I thought about this post yesterday in the mist of all my other ruminations.
I don't have much to say about the poetry.
But I'd like to talk about the question of whether or not our emotions flatten out as we age. I think not. I think our experiences are different (is no more a 'first' crush, a 'first' fight, a first 'acceptance' etc). We have many more responsibilities, and probably a lot less time to devote to basking in poetic emotions. But we're still capable of them as adults, just in different ways.
My writing exercise this week, based on the song Delilah, is an example of that. To me.
I'm rambling.
I'll go back to some internal musings....

Great post though.

virtual nexus said...

I used to enjoy metaphysical poetry; - there has to be a spectrum with poetry so that some err more to the intellect and word play rather than emotional expression?

I personally believe that a gifted creative logician can usually turn their hand to poetry, prose and fiction, but not everyone has that mental balance or emotional range.

Find low level of arty stimulus works against writing poetry - and probably against reading it, too.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I am not a poet but I do love and enjoy poetry. I don't know if it is the purest form but I do agree that many of the best poems come from emotional angst.

Sidney said...

My most prolific poetry stage was in my late teens and twenties. I can remember like yesterday writing a poem about turning twenty.

My feelings were much more intense in those days.

Hopefully as we grow older what we lose in raw emotion we make up for in other ways.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernita, I agree about "one good line."

Steve Malley, that's a good point. It's not just a decrement in emotional experience over time, but there is a change in our ability to recognize nuances, and to becoming aware of 'why' we experience certain emotions. Sometimes my emotions are less strong now because I understand the reason better and know the reason is minor.

Michelle, that's much my experience too. While I can force myself to revise poetry I've already written, it is virtually impossible to make myself write it unless I feel it.

Lana, yes, you and I have talked about this before. There's definetely something there. I'm glad you are finding it enjoyable again though. I love to watch you paint.

Lisa, that's the 24 dollar question for sure. I'm 48 now and am experiencing the emotional change just as you are.

Mark, I found research to show that poets do committ suicide more frequently than other types of writers, especially if they tend to write poetry with "I" in it.

Church Lady, good point. My comment to Steve Malley ties in with this I think.

Julie, I think they'd have to be a very talented "creative Logician" but I do think you're probably right.

Ello, it certainly seems so to me.

Sidney, that seems definetely to have been my experience. Having a little more piece of mind sure makes up for some of it in my experience.

SzélsőFa said...

you know what I think, Charles, I splashed a line or two around in my blog.... :)

Angie said...

With nonfiction, I want the facts, and I know that emotions strongly color the interpretation of facts.

Very true. [facepalm] I tend to get very intense about things I care strongly about, and it comes across in my writing. When I was in school, the only times I got bad grades on papers I wrote was when I felt a strong emotional attachment to the subject matter. In particular, papers I wrote in English classes on two of my favorite writers pretty much bombed. I was too close to the subject matter and even while writing I felt that it wasn't coming out right, that something was very wrong but I couldn't back up enough to figure out what, much less how to fix it. Very frustrating. :/


Jim N. said...

Having just ordered your novel and coming across this blog, I couldn't resist throwing in a thought. Brought back memories of when we tried to sell the nuns on evolution in 6th grade...

I'm sure that poetry flows easiest when emotions are high, and swinging from extemes. But I find that music is made most interesting by the "rests" or silences between the screaming high notes or gutteral lows. I suspect that there is very fertile ground to be explored in these "emotionless" states. I personally find that it's not the hulking, raging killer thats most frightening, but rather the timid nondescript neighbor who is busy filling his freezer with neat little packages (consisting of neighbors)with no emotional affect whatsoever.
My thought in the end is that when we work with what we have inside devoid of the coloring of emotion, it is so pure that it will be extremely beautiful or especially dark. Either way, embrace it and share.