The Vulnerability of Poetry

by annmarieelliott

I sit down at my computer, look at a blank page, and tell myself it’s time to write. But what happens first is a collage: facebook, news articles, emails. Somehow we’ve moved our world onto a public format that doesn’t really exist, and we’re connected to people not through conversation, but through linkage. In creating the “social network”, what we’ve lost is a social world in general.

So I sit down at my computer, look at a blank page, and tell myself it’s time to write. But when I do, I realize something is missing. Some aspect of life that I feel has been lost from our generation of writers creates a cavern of ache in my chest as I compose word by word the ideas I want my readers to understand: the heartbeat is missing. The driving muscle that carries the literal life force from my brain to the ends of my fingers as they pour words and thoughts onto the page—it doesn’t want to be there. The heartbeat of poetry that so often reveals itself through the way a piece carries into the pit of our stomachs a certain longing for more; vulnerability. I am censored. I am blocked, returning again and again to an error message: “the domain name you are searching for no longer exists”. And I can’t help but wonder: where have we gone? There is a certain nature of guarded existence that I encounter again and again as I read my own poetry and that of my contemporaries. We’re so used to blasting the nature and details of our lives to broadcast ourselves to the world, and yet there is an essence of intimacy that has disappeared. As there is no longer a necessity to reach out to someone to be heard, there is also no necessity to endeavor Truth. It could be that we cannot reach for this capitalization of such a small idea because we lack an understanding for the power of it; although we long for a platform on which to be heard, we ache for universality. There is a cost for complete understanding.

At the same time, there is a delicate balance to maneuver. The words that can surprise us when writing without regard for critical evaluation could verge on the overly romantic or melodramatic. To the other end, the pit of obscurity. How, then, must we compromise universality and vulnerability? There certainly are no scales by which to understand the perfect measure of understanding. The saying goes that comedy is tragedy, plus time; perhaps a similar statement can be made for poetry.

The thing about comedy is that it entices you, down to a physical core. It achieves a fulfillment of human interaction to the point that its audience is driven to an often uncontrollable physical reaction: laughter. To think that an art form can generate such a connection with their goals to generate that unconscious feeling of overflowing seems incredible. But replace poetry in that same possible phrase: “poetry is tragedy, plus time”, and one might begin to wonder if the ultimate physical goal might be so overflowing as to aim towards tears. Yet another mistake of empty vulnerability—melodrama is born of vulnerability leaning towards the provocation of emotion in order to represent vulnerability even in universal settings. The result of the unbalance being errors toward the cliché or generic. If there were another way to phrase the question, however, we might be able to grab hold of the key ingredient: time. What if we said “poetry is emotion, plus time”, “poetry is event, plus space”?

The importance of time isn’t simply temporal. Time grants the ability to find distance from your subject; objectivity. While a lack of inhibition is vital to vulnerability, to avoid the trite distance has to be placed. It can be achieved in as little as gaining a new perspective or changing the voice of the speaker—the necessity of distance allies itself to simply evaluating the deeper heart of your words. Time is a means by which to evaluate the expression of emotion and the outcome of events; space a physical point outside, a new existence by which to measure an old.

But there is more to the strength of comedy than time: the outcome itself is a deep physical reaction. When it reaches its audience in the way it means to, it creates a physical need, because it was created of one. Comedy writers produce things that they find funny. They’ve written it, read it, and found it working by their own physical expressions of laughter. It is produced out of the physical need itself.

I sit down at my computer, look at a blank screen, and tell myself it’s time to write, and the first thing I search for are words. They’re usually sitting somewhere, incessant with an ache in my chest to be granted meaning. And when I can find them, and embrace them, that granting creates a new ache to compose. Writing begins as a series images; when I know I’ve caught on to that story, something with purpose and power, scenes spring to life for me. It is a feeling of confession from a part of me I rarely talk to—when I let it write, it produces a physical need.

It’s difficult to say whether there is a way to define this sort of need, let alone pinpoint the origin of such a drive to compose, but there it is. As poets, this is our life force, this is that heartbeat that so often disappears beneath an effort to achieve the vast and immediate approval we’ve grown so used to in a world of technology and instant gratification. All too often we turn the volume up on the immediacy of the world to hear it in us, or allow it to present itself to an audience, but if we can, we have that potential for physicality. Everyone can think of a piece that, when read, sinks to the pit of their chest and lays there, heavy, creating longing. The feeling of provoked vulnerability derived from an unknown source. Though hidden, and difficult to balance, this is the gift of intimacy in poetry.

With this intimacy, we must also be aware of the very difficulty it takes to achieve. Just as the truth of a person is composed of the beauty of identity and the means it takes to hide it, so, too, does the Truth of the poet appear in their writing. This is why seeking time and distance are important, as well as the understanding that there are reasons that drive us to so flock towards universality that we forget to register the relationship of the writing. There is newness in voice, and strength in evaluation.

I sit down at my computer, take a look at a blank screen, and tell myself it’s time to write, and the words come from everywhere. Social anxieties, preoccupations, work loads, health issues, concerns; even the drive to write can be a distraction in itself. But there is something that reminds me that the words spilling forth are another provocation: this is an overflowing of myself. Writing, when striving towards the vulnerable, is like laughter. It is an overflowing of the self into a physical urge that is created almost by compulsion. Is it not the same compulsion that drives us to search out poetry? A need to be challenged by a sinking into the self, to feel the weight in your belly when something strikes you just so? We have an innate drive to explore the way we live and communicate with one another, the way we feel about the world and how it relates to those around us with their own lives, histories, loves, and fears. This isn’t something we can access through universality. Only vulnerability.