My sister is dying and I am writing about it. This brings me to one of those approach-avoidance challenges that artists, especially poets (I would like to think) must confront because of what we do. Here’s how it goes:
Workshops are rife with people who write as therapy; indeed this is how most of us started. I think it was Auden who warned poets to leave the therapy out of the poetry and I agree with him. Thus the challenge is to write while impassioned without descending into therapy.
We write in our teens because we haven’t got a clue and we need one. It’s crap. It certainly isn’t something recollected in tranquility because there is no tranquility for teens. Later when that bastard wrongs us or that bitch throws us out and life doesn’t make enough sense, we write to right things. That too is crap. These are what to leave out, burn, blow up, deep six, line the bird cage with. And for God’s sake don’t take this stuff to the workshops—write Dear Abby instead.
By writing a lot and thus learning to write one gets to know her/his own voice and method. If you recognize your own voice and method while writing under stress and with passion, keep on keeping on for you’re likely on the right track. If not, write what you must and then get on with other things, but don’t mistake it for the poetry it is not. It’s right to value it, but value it for what it really is. We write for various reasons, one of which is to vent, and should learn to value it for its genuine value without foisting it upon the poetry world.
I find my poems to my sister are pretty good, well-formed and ringing with my voice produced in the way I normally produce. And they seem to pass one of my acid tests for all poems:
Does the poet sound like he really means it?
I recognize that another reader will determine whether I am right about this but for now I think I’ve got the right groove going. I add that this also comes after writing thirty poems to another sister just a couple of months ago and that exercise may have prepared me for this. As I so often say—write a lot and stay in practice. After a layoff of several months it has taken me a good two months of writing daily (nearly) to get back into shape.
So long for now.