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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writing about feelings

One of the most helpful guides to writing poetry I have found is Ted Kooser's "The Poetry Home repair Manual". He offers many useful insights, and since most of my own poetry is from my personal experience of life, his comments on writing about feelings are particularly valuable to me:

"Poetry would be a lost art if there were laws against writing about feelings, and the Poetry Cops would be very busy pounding on poets with night sticks... (still), to write a poem that is not just a gush of sentiment but something that will engender in its readers deep, resonant feelings, you need to exercise restraint to avoid what is commonly termed sentimentality...(however) the the absence of emotion is not what readers go to books of poetry for. we want some human heat. Each of us who writes must find a balance between restraint and expressions of feeling...One of the hardest things to learn is how poems can express strong feelings without expressly stating those feelings...Some poets have gotten the idea that they can say things about their feelings in poems that most of us wouldn't feel right about saying at the dinner table, as if writing a poem gives you permission to talk about things you wouldn't talk about in public. But we need to keep in mind that writing a poem is public, too. Your reader is right there on the other side of the table, politely and patiently listening to you. How long do you dare go on about the misery your hemorrhoids are causing you?...Self indulgent poetry almost always disappears in time, a victim of its own failure to engage the needs and interests of others. It takes a grateful audience to keep a poem alive. Expression of feeling ought to be measured against the reader's tolerance for such expression."

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