Friday, November 14, 2008

The Trouble With Poetry

I just finished reading 100 Essential Modern Poems by Women, which I enjoyed immensely. (Hmmmm. I see that I am drawing more and more towards poetry and less and less towards fiction. Could that little itch be telling me something?) It was a fantastic sampler for someone like me who is sadly, pitifully, underexposed to poetry. (Which is another blog topic in itself [everyone's underexposure to poetry], but I’m saving that up for the Red Brick Store blog, I think.)

Anyway, one thing that has been very unsettling to me as I have read about some prominent female poets is how really screwed up or unhappy so many of them are/were. It seems like some 80% or more of them had abusive upbringings, or lovers who killed themselves, or nervous breakdowns. What is UP with that? Which comes first—the poetry or the misery? And could I possibly be a decent poet, someday, without having a miserable life? Please?

Here’s an interesting quote from May Swenson who seems to have had a relatively happy life but who also happened to leave the church. As in the Mormon church. She says, “It is not for me—religion. It seems like redundancy for a poet” (p. 100). What? So the holy calling of poetry stands in the place of any organized worship? OK, I know that’s not what she was really saying. But it bugs. It bugs. (And of course I know that some of the best poetry ever written was written by very, very religious people. Like, say, Isaiah, Joseph Smith, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Donne and some of our own LDS poets, many of whom can be read in my favorite poetry book, Discoveries.)



Katie Aldrich said...

I read "Since you were born" on the Segullah site. I hope I haven't broken etiquette (or copyright laws!) by posting it. I've never been able to read it without crying. Thanks for giving voice to....all of it. How did you track it down on my blog? Does poem radar work the same way kid radar does?:)

Anonymous said...

Katie, that's a cryin' poem for me, too. I love it.

Darlene, my mom and I were wondering the same thing about artists after touring the recent exhibit at the U. (that went from oh I can't remember exactly but from before the Impressionists on through to the Surrealists) -- we were wondering about when the change happened in which artists went from holding a privileged, be-patroned position in society (I had to make that word up rather than say "patronized,") to society and artists themselves having the idea that an artist had to be an iconoclast; a misunderstood, starving rebel, to create "great" art. We formed some theories (but this would be an even more too-long than usual comment if I tried to repeat them all) and it's still a topic that interests me.

One theory I've had about poetry is that things like the lyrics of popular songs have taken the place in everyday culture that poetry used to hold, and that as poetry has moved out of everyday use, poets have felt the need to find ways to be more and more elite and extraordinary to give their poetry a raison d'etre. I think it's also true that personal unhappiness can drive someone to self-expression -- but I CERTAINLY think it possible that a person can be happy and still creative.

That sounds like a great collection; I should track down a copy for myself one of these times.

Darlene said...


Maybe you can imagine how happy it makes me to find someone enjoying my poetry. I don't mind at all that you put it on your site, especially since you included my name! I've never been really sure about copyright laws, though I think we're not supposed to quote a whole poem without permission. But consider yourself as having perma-permission from me. You can't imagine what an effect it has on me to know someone is reading and enjoying my poetry. It keeps me going.

Darlene said...

Oh, and I tracked it down because on a total fluke I found a blog somewhere that mentioned me and so then I was curious if any others did. So I googled my own name and "poetry."

workshop said...

Darlene, I would think that your health struggles should count for something.

Michelle said...

Even more reason for you to continue as the fabulous poet you already are. PROVE THEM WRONG.

And may I mention that your hubby so so cute and charming?

xoxo, m