Friday, July 27, 2007

life outside the safety and security that humans normally crave



"Sometimes I think poets are called on to experience life outside the safety and security that humans normally crave. That we have this responsibility in order to bring that dimension of life to the forefront for others."

That was an excerpt from a comment I posted in a response to something on another poetry blog. I won’t go into the entire substance of the initial conversation here. Instead I want to expound on the statement itself within the larger scope of poetry and life as a poet. It seems the statement could easily be applied across the board to the arts; however, it is my belief that it is especially significant in literary arts and most of all poetry.

I’m not certain if as practicing poets we develop this capability or if those who are drawn to poetry are individuals who largely experience a fuller range of emotions. Like the chicken or the egg debate, we could argue this for hours, I prefer to focus on the maxim and allow others to have that discussion.

Some may see this as an extension of the contention often voiced, that poets are all dark introspective individuals. It’s easy to see how this is affixed to us considering the high profile lives of poets known to have taken their own lives, been alcoholics, or insert whatever other depressive lifestyle you wish in the blank. It may be that the numbers of people in misery are no higher among poets than the population in general; that we know more of this from poets because they write of it where others silently go on to their demise. I'm not convinced one way or the other.

Good poetry provokes. It should provoke reaction. Sometimes socially provocative poetry can provoke action. I suppose this is why many find poetry and social or political issues to be so easily entwined.

A poem that provokes disgust with a reader has effectively communicated in some way because it has made that reader feel some emotion. A poem that can arouse passion in a reader again has brought to the surface an emotional response to the writing.

I read a good many poems that sound good or nice (both words perceived as positive but are about as bland as can be) and they do not bring any significant emotional connection to me as a reader. Something is missing here.

I like to think of us poets as both artists and historians. We tell something in such a way that we evoke a feeling that reminds you of something in your mental anthology of emotions that recreates and takes you there again.

If poets writing about war or death or rape or torture seems depressing, that is the point, but it is just as necessary as writing about birth or marriage or orgasmic sex or winning the World Series with a walk-off home run, because humanity must be able to experience the lows and the highs in order to appreciate these extremes in life.

It is critical in any art to push envelopes, to take risks with your work. I’ve seen poems that I did not particularly like but were quite effective at taking me someplace I’d rather not be. But such poetry is effectively doing what it should just as much as one that takes me to one of my most joyous memories.

So with this in mind, my point is that as poets we must write outside of our safety zones because that is where we need to take our readers.
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