Monday, September 05, 2022

poetry and misery

I was having a discussion lately about sometimes we crave it.  How you can listen to the same sad song or sad movie scene and somehow the sadness is cathartic. And maybe that idea of catharsis is what art is all about.  All I know is that there are times when I set out deliberately to cry, and I know it going in.  It's not really the passing things--a sad video about cats or animals example that I glimpse when I'm scrolling.  Or the sort of angry crying I used to do over work-related things.  Or even the sad crying I sometimes do when I think about past relationships I wish had ended differently (the Taylor Swift sads I like to call them.) 

When I was a kid, I have two Christmas memories that stand out.  One, I've talked about before.a certain sad Christmas tree song I used to make my mother play again and again.  I would stand in the middle of the living room and cry. The other was "Frosty the Snowman" on tv, something I would look forward to airing every year, but the part I was focused on was him melting and the scene in the greenhouse and I would cry and cry. I would wait for that part specifically because it was so sad.  

I joked that this meant I was going to be a poet, even then. But I usually don't see writing, or the writing process in general as sad. Or even unpleasant. I was thinking about this as I was reading this article this morning, about the tortures of writing. When I wrote FEED, it definitely felt like a catharsis, and maybe some of it was sad to write, "the hunger palace" in particular, mostly because things still felt very new and raw after my mother's death.  The rest of the book was not so much sad, nor were other things I wrote around the same time. 

In general, the difficulty comes from knowing where to start. I feel like once I am rolling on a project, the writing becomes easier, and the better it flows the easier the next part, the editing, is.  However, besides the tortuousness of proofing and slogging through line edits, the poems themselves are not unpleasant to write, nor are they particularly tortuous in emotional toll or construction. Sometimes, there's a sort of exhaustion I feel afterward but its more like I just finished swimming across a river. It's tiring, but good. 

The idea of the suffering of poets is a strange one, but then again, many turn to poetry to address other kinds of traumas and mental illnesses and this may be why. Some of the most brilliant poets I have known have also been the most in need of help, maybe not all the time, but sometimes.  I hate the idea that madness is genius, but I think certain ways the brain misfires can be terrible for living in the world, but really good for art. Ask these people and I think they would willingly give up poetry for stability in almost all cases.

Maybe for the rest of us, or at least those of us with only slightly or occasionally malfunctioning brains in terms of anxiety or depression, I'm not sure the poetry hurts, but then again, BEING a poet may be hazardous to one's mental health. Not only have you chosen to be a writer, but you've also chosen a genre that few people read outside of it, where the bottlenecking is terrible, where that bottlenecking causes lots of people to be assholes, and a field that will probably never lead to anything like an income and just more rejection than acceptance. 

Even worse, all those things aside, it's LONELY out here.  I think I often feel this most when the writing is going well and there is no reason to feel so isolated, and yet, I do. I've often said dropping a poem into the world is like dropping a dime into the ocean. I am not sure it always felt this way.  Outside of a few exceptions, I've mostly written without an in-person community. There were MFA years, others I used to read at open-mic events. Those were just brief periods. Otherwise my experience of community is based on the web and maybe that is what feels lonely--a mix of people abandoning platforms and wonky algorithms, and everything, even Instagram, seems dead lately, not just in terms of engagement, but also just content and conversation.  I feel like this is not new, maybe the past couple of years. And maybe its just that everyone is on Twitter now, which I kind of hate. 

So I guess we keep going, even if only for ourselves and maybe the one or two people who like our work and want to see more.  Or maybe just ourselves, and really maybe that's enough. 

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