Poetry Thursday - Personal Poetry
Well, there's a Post Title to send people running for the hills! Don't we all dread the times when we get stuck with an enthusiast armed with pamphlet, declaiming their poetry about the dog who died, the childhood that's long gone, the loves mislaid (or otherwise lost), misery, sadness - the entire human condition, as exemplified in their own lives? Do we?
The question we're asked to consider this week at Poetry Thursday is about "maybe just putting some thought into how this kind of poem (confessional or personal poetry) might fall flat, or on the other hand, might be so powerful and universal that it changes someone's life, truly changes someone's response to pain and circumstances.” - For there is the other side of personal poetry. - For every instance you find which leaves you cold, there is also one that illuminates an aspect of life, touching the heart in a way that no other literary form does.
To me, confessional poetry, when it's done well - when it rises above simply the telling of the story of some event in the poet's life, and hints at the universal emotions within the story - allows the reader, if they have never shared that experience in real life, to experience now the emotion involved; and if they have had the experience dealt with in the poem, very often they will find that the poem expresses the emotion inherent in it so perfectly and completely that they wonder how the poet knew what they had felt.
I have read poems and wondered how that poet knew my heart, my feelings so well. That is to me the key - that the poem deals with a personal experience in a way that others can identify with it, empathise and imagine that the experience is their own.
When Poetry Thursday began, my intention was to alternate between sharing well-known poets' work and my own, and then, when we were reminded of the necessity to obtain permission to publish copyrighted work, it seemed, I'll confess, too much trouble to go seeking permission, so I've slipped into the habit of offering my own poetry over the last few posts, and somewhere in the back of my mind was a nagging little voice saying "people are going to get sick, sick, sick of hearing about your marriage break-up" It was in poems. It was seeping into Sunday Scribblings, and still, very often, whatever prompt was being offered would seem to lead me in the direction of a piece of writing drawing on that experience. I have an entire sequence of break-up poems I call (very originally!) the Parting Sequence. Never published. Perhaps never will be, they were mainly written during the first few months of our separation. Maybe people who have been through the end of a relationship would relate to many of them, considering that they convey a feeling they had also felt. I haven't read any of them in public, not trusting myself to maintain composure, but there was a need to have them validated - heard in some way - so I asked for time from one of my writers' groups to read them. My colleagues all spoke of how polished and complete the poems seemed (although I hadn't done any editing work on them).
These ramblings don't really help me come up with a definitive answer to the question - What makes a poem powerful enough to change someone's life, change their response to circumstances? I only know that they do. I know when I read Pablo Neruda, when I pick through an anthology like Staying Alive, or consider the wonderful work of John Fox in the field of Poetry Therapy that I have felt the impact of a poem on my spirit, have felt the lift that comes with knowing that another soul has been in the place mine now is, or mine can feel itself in.
Here are some words of Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney:
"The virtue of poetry, of art in general, resides in the fact that it is first and foremost a whole thing, a hale thing, a thing formally and feelingly sound, right within itself, a thing to which the ultimate response - if not always the immediate response - is 'yes'. And this yes comes from an assent that is as bodily as it is anything else. The viewer, the listener, the audience recognise that something has come through to them intact, or perhaps better say they recognise that something has been brought through to them and brought home..." ("The Good of Poetry, Eisteach, Winter, 2004)
There, for me, is the key. When a personal or confessional poem draws out a Yes in me, a knowing, then it has transcended mere marks on paper and become something that is transmitting a complete feeling. (Am I really trying to paraphrase the above and make it more sensible?) You know the poem that you respond to with "Aaaah"? That's the poem that is doing it for me. The poem that causes a vibration in my sternum. The poem that finds me nodding, saying Yes, Yes, Yes.
My offering of poetry for this week is a suggestion that you follow the link to John Fox, above, and enjoy his poems there. I was lucky enough to do a short workshop with him a few years ago, and gained so much from it, not just as a poet, but as a therapist and for myself personally. He is a beautiful soul, and a wonderful poet.