Years ago, when I was young and impressionable and dreamy and romantic and oh so foolish and thought I had something to offer and thought I could help the world—nay, thought I was MEANT to help the world, I fell in love. Hard. You know the kind—big sigh can’t sleep can’t eat can’t think can’t breathe glow-in-the-dark Jesus-kill-me-now-or-I’m-going-to-kill-myself-kind-of-love. That kind.
It did not evolve. I managed somehow to put it away. In a closet somewhere. Hung it up on a hook. Not so far away that it disappeared, but far enough away so that I didn’t have to look at it every single damned day because that hurt too much. I never forgot about it—never—but I was able to hide my pain and function appropriately in most situations. But occasionally, masochist that I am, those times when I was in crisis because it was raining out or I couldn’t find the coffee filters or the cat was under the bed, and I felt like going out in the garden and eating worms, I would resurrect that heartache and let it eat away at my soul. Ouch. Until the tears started. Then I would wallow in that place of tears and pain and hurt for a while, until even I couldn’t stand myself anymore, and I would go put on really really really sad love songs (Air Supply was my favorite) and sob away, crying immense tears and using tons of tissues. Then I crawled back in my shell, which I had never really left anyway, and went back to being myself: my normal, shy, introverted, unlovely self. The self I had always been, the self that no one knew, or cared to know. Every time I had one of these melt-downs, the torment of that long-ago lost love got a little less painful.
Later, after I went to school and took some classes in poetry, I wrote a poem about that love, hoping to be done with it. Nothing new there: who hasn’t written about their lost love/broken heart?
I got an “A” in the class, then I took an independent study from the same professor.
So anyway, last week, I went back to look at my long-ago poem again. And I realized that writing feelings down on paper can help; it is a cathartic release so that we don’t get paralyzed by self-absorption. Poetry allows us the freedom to say who we are inside, which can be emotionally exhausting, and because it is “poetry” there is a separate set of standards for the writer, and different expectations from the reader. Sonneteer Kristin Garth compares poetry to a kind of caging; you can express your feelings more succinctly and with less fear within the confines and behind the protection of a poem than you can in a journal, say.
Poetry is more exacting. We distil every phrase to arrive at a precise meaning. We can weave metaphor through a poem in ways that other forms make cumbersome. Sure, we can agonize over word choices, and this can unimaginably slow down the process. But this is also why writers make use of “poetic license;” it allows a freedom of expression that is necessary to capture individual and highly personal statements, and if no word exists to express a feeling, the poet can invent one. This is kind of an unspoken contract between the poet and the audience – a more “laissez-faire” approach.
Love is one of the most common themes in poetry because it is a universal feeling. But just because love has been addressed by many poets that does not mean it has been over-done. A good love poem is always satisfying to the soul and to the heart, and to the writer that lives in each one of us.
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