Currently, running away might be exactly what I could be accused of doing. I am at our small beach house where I have been most of this month. I have been coming here every year for the past 4 summers, during the month of June, in order to write and recharge.
Some years have been more successful than others in the area of writing, but usually I have been able to rest well, even if I have not been able to write well while here. This year, oddly, I have not been able to rest quite as well. One factor has been the weather. We have had storms rolling in at night and these tempests have managed to intrude on my rest in two ways. The first way is the most obvious: if I am sleeping, and if the storm is close enough, it wakes me. The second way is both more appealing and less preferable at the same time: the storm comes before I am asleep and so I open the blinds or go out onto the porch and become a spectator. The thrill of watching a good storm, frankly, makes it difficult to settle down enough to later go to sleep. I simply don’t want to sleep afterwards.
However, for me to blame my inability to rest completely on these acts of God is not the whole story. I think it is because I am a poet. My theory is that one of the reasons I am a poet is because I don’t have a “normal” emotional filter. For example, I can be out to dinner or in some public place, and if I am alone, or if I am not deeply involved in a conversation of my own, invariably my ears will find and lock in on the most pained conversation that is happening around me. The conversation may provoke my sympathy or my anger, but the point is, it becomes very difficult for me to ignore the conversation and its effect on me. That example is just one. Jean Cocteau said, “The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” And Robert Frost said, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.”
Finding memories of firsthand experiences which are, feelings-wise, reminiscent of those ambient conversations is not difficult; after all, there has to be a reason for every strong emotional response. If I am willing to take the journey into that memory, into that experience, often a poem results. If you write poetry, you know how satisfying that result can be. That is not to say that only confessional poems or poems based on the poet’s personal experiences are satisfying. Our feelings are responses to our own respective individual lives, but they are also responses to our shared lives and being part of the family of humanity.
Consider, for example, Wordsworth and his poems to his sister, versus his more sociological or political poems. Both came from a place of deep emotion, even though Wordsworth did not “experience” the French Revolution the way he experienced being brother to his sister. Likewise, my two most recent drafts of poems deal respectively with the subjects of prejudice and ignorance, and my multi-faceted response to the amazing young woman I am watching my daughter become.
I believe Jung had a theory or two about the phenomenon that I am attempting to explain; in other words, I will leave off trying to explain.
Here is my point. Because I consider myself, at heart, “a poet,” writing prose is a different animal altogether, and it is still a bit of a mystery to me. This year, during this month, I am working on two prose projects, both of which I mentioned in my last post. Due to this focus on prose, I have written very little poetry during the last few months. Is there a connection between the absence of creating poetry and my unrest?
I am not implying that fiction cannot also be healing. Stories can be very emotionally satisfying. For me, however, writing stories is much like experiencing that ambient painful conversation in public, rather than latching onto that firsthand emotional experience that prompts me to write a poem. Does that fact mean that my prose is doomed to have less emotional depth than my poetry? I hope not. The fact of the matter is, of course, not every poem is about “exploring emotional depth.” Some are supposed to be funny or sarcastic or something else altogether. Each has its own purpose; just as each story has its own purpose. I am in no position to judge, of course, but I think the issue is not so much about the quality of the resulting work as it is about the effect the process has on the writer.
I know this much: the most apt way, historically, for me to unburden myself is through the writing of poetry. I simply wonder whether not writing poetry is keeping me awake at night.