The link that I have just posted sparked quite a debate when I added it to my facebook. The headline at once is misleading; somehow suggesting that having a creative mind is a mental illness itself which is completely false, rather, the creative mind can mimic symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (chemically that is, not in terms of mood and behaviour in the individual which is important to understand), and that those with mental illness often find solace in creative activities, in fact sometimes they are a very necessary outlet. However. Today’s post has nothing to do with that debate (though it is an interesting one and I’d be happy to welcome it in the comments section), but it has a lot to do with the appropriateness of misery in poetry today.
I think it could be just me, but I can’t bear to read any more poems that talk about self-loathing and emotional pain. That’s not to do with any of you, it’s largely to do with me. I’ve written too many of them myself – my poems normally fall under the following categories:
- I hate myself and I want everyone to know that I hate myself because emotionally I’m clearly still 13.
- I’m in a complicated relationship and I hate the person I am madly in love with and I’m too immature to understand that it’s not going to get any better.
- I’m in a happy relationship and I’m too insecure to understand that not everything is a sign that it’s going to go wrong.
- I’ve gone and lost my mind again.
These topics are poems I have a hard time dealing with when they arrive in the inboxes of my Sadcore Dadwave zine or the submissions editor of Metazen where I also edit part time. But why? I don’t know. I think it has something to do with me cynically thinking that this ‘trend’ is over, or more so I’m cursing my own lack of originality and and displacing that annoyance onto others. I just feel like these subjects, when approached, almost need to be done a lot more artfully than other things. We’ve had confessionalism, we’ve been through expressionism, we’re through with romanticism, we’ve written these poems since we were 12 because that’s how we thought poems should be written. The poems that are in the public imagination are the ones we think of when we first embark on a writing career and so those are the ones we are so quick to subconsciously emulate. That, plus the link between mental illness and creativity. A lot of us are depressives. In fact most of us are. The hard feelings we struggle with are the exact ones that make for (if done incorrectly) boring poetry. So where does this leave us?
In a really stuck but necessary place. We, as mature poets, know we cannot just write down words that rhyme with and including “pain”. We can’t fall into the easy metaphors of dark, bottomless pits, we can’t mention the black dog following us around and we cannot expect a discerning audience to immediately empathise with us before they look at our poems as a piece of art and not a cry for help. This is why when I sit down to write down immediately how I’m feeling (and it’s a poem I’m writing to be shared, and not just kept to myself), I feel like I suddenly need to try a lot harder when I’m touching upon the subjects I mentioned above at risk of hating myself even more. So, after all that preamble, here is today’s poem. I’ve decided to write it in the form of a sevenling, it’s one of my favourite forms as it is simple, succinct, and bound by subtle but tricky rules (which I find beneficial when writing about something I know may come across as a little too moody). The rules are simply this (taken from the American Poetry Journal): The first three lines should contain an element of three – three connected or contrasting statements, or a list of three details, names or possibilities. This can take up all of the three lines or be contained anywhere within them. Then, lines four to six should similarly contain an element of three, connected directly or indirectly or not at all. The seventh line should act as a narrative summary or punchline or as an unusual juxtaposition. There are no set metrical rules, but being such as short form, some rhythm, metre or rhyme is desirable. To give the form a recognisable shape, it should be set out in two stanzas of three lines, with a solitary seventh, last line. Titles are not required. A sevenling should be titled Sevenling followed by the first few words in parentheses The tone of the sevenling should be mysterious, offbeat or disturbing, giving a feeling that only part of the story is being told. The poem should have a certain ambience which invites guesswork from the reader.
So here I go:
pieces of evening: a sevenling
a hissing static, below-baseline cadre i am housing.
these are silent, unknown photos that spite could fondly
caption with the names i read in books; between breaks.
so i teach myself to smoke again, sleepwalk, drink juice in
lieu of wine and stay awake to catch the snapping of the
baseline back to nought. the cadre stop; i turn, and
remember it’s just a mouse-click separates me from all this.