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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Poetry and Other Adventures

At a recent session with PsychLady I spoke of my passionate love of beauty, all kinds of beauty, and my sorrow at not being beautiful myself. I explained that this is why I began writing poetry when I was very young – I wanted to add to the beauty of the world, and for me poetry was the most beautiful thing a human could create.

She pointed out the obvious: that poetry is my beauty, and the expression of my beauty. I had to admit that if I could swap right now and become a famous beauty for the way I look but lose the poetic talent, I would not swap, not for a moment. For homework she gave me an assignment to write a poem about poetry being my beauty. I didn’t write it until a week later, just before my next appointment with her, but it had been germinating away in the subconscious all the while.

What I wrote was Living Beauty. I was very pleased with it. It didn’t need revising, and I had done risky things with repetition and made them work. In various ways it felt like a quantum leap. Other people liked it too, and “got” it – even poetry haters in my writers’ group. All very satisfying!

Perhaps, after that, the only way was down? Anyway, a couple of days later I started looking through the last four years’ output (since publication of the last book). It was horribly disconcerting! As described in Crisis, I had suddenly lost the ability to “hear” my own poetic voice. I knew I’d been in a rather plain and prosey phase for some time, but I had thought it was still working as poetry. Now, it was as if I was coming to the poems as a new reader – and I couldn’t find any rhythm in them, any music. The language seemed ridiculously banal. Flaws leapt up and hit me in the eye. I realized that I’ve been churning stuff out quite prolifically, posting first drafts and never going back and working on them further. As for the things I had filed as drafts for later revision, they seemed pathetic, not worth trying to do anything with.

This was of course horrifying. My identity and self-worth are bound up with the poetry. And I wondered, in shock, if the friends who had made positive comments on my efforts were just being kind. You must have had the online experience of seeing some self-deluded folks who write atrocious verses, and all their friends rush to comment how wonderful their work is! Could that be me too, after all?

Then I noticed that I was pretty apathetic about things in general. None of the things that normally bring me joy seemed even vaguely interesting. I recognized what I was feeling as the way other people have described bouts of depression – something I have been lucky enough to have avoided so far. I don’t know which came first, the mood or my inability to like my poems. (“So,” said PsychLady yesterday, “You have gone from denying your beauty to denying your poetry too, which is the expression of it.”)

I’m grateful indeed for friends who read Crisis and rushed to disagree with it! Canadian poet Pearl Pirie said particularly wise things:

yeah, that's a familiar sensation/perception for me.

sometimes it's lasted months but it passes. generally means I'm breaking thru to some new inner level, a reorientation as part before growth phase.

a lot of stock is placed in the world poem. communication matters. call it what you will in finer level after that.

Finally some perspective re-emerged, and I realised that many of the people who praise my poetry happen to be poets whose own work I admire. That has to count for something! It’s a very different thing from lovers of the trite and sentimental praising doggerel. And my non-poet readers are people whose taste and intelligence I respect in other matters. Sorry, everybody, for insulting your judgment even briefly (not to mention your authenticity).

That being said, it wouldn’t hurt at all to go into a revision phase now and get some of those poems to the absolute best they can be. I thought I would take a sabbatical from writing new stuff (apart from the haiku and tanka, which whole groups of people use to spark their own). But PsychLady said the same as some of my friends: “Write about the emptiness, the nothing, the no-words”. Well, I would if I could, but I think it might have gone already!

And the other adventures? We’re liable to be moving house again real soon! But this post is long enough. I’ll write about the move tomorrow. Suffice to say, we’re excited. This shift is the one we’ve been waiting for.


  1. I sympathise with this feeling only too well. Writing has me in a constant cycle that takes me hurtling through the I'm a genius! phase and crashing into Woe is me, I'll never write anything worthwhile via a good long stop in, Meh... it's just average really, isn't it? I think we can be safe in the knowledge that we all experience something like it, but that doesn't help much at the time. And it makes it very difficult, as you know, to be objective!

  2. Oh gosh, that does sound familiar!

    Well, for the next few weeks it'll be the last thing on my mind after all. See next post.