Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Poetry, Criticism and Honesty

I have been getting a lot of feedback on my poetry in the past couple of weeks. I'm surprised with a lot of the responses. Mostly because I am not a good judge of my own work; a lot of people aren't apparently. But one thing in particular people have said is that I'm brave.

Let me clarify: I'm not brave. I'm a coward. Journalists who go to war-zones are brave. Women giving birth are brave. Children trying something for the first time, that's brave. Me and my little words on a page are really not brave.

I don't mean to diminish the things I'm saying. I have some interesting new ideas I'm working with regarding mental illness and the creative mind. I'm revealing secrets, which is exciting, but I don't know if it's brave. I also know what people are saying. They are saying that because I'm being open and honest with feelings and facing the things people shy away from, that this somehow makes me brave. For me, not facing my feelings is not an option. I also prefer being open to a fault. Sometimes I really kill good moments with a blurted-out obvious comment.

On another note regarding feedback: I get a lot of energy when people tell me what they like about my poetry. Getting compliments just makes me soar. However, when I get harsher criticism I swing the other way completely. I feel almost sick. I begin to doubt myself and it really stifles my writing.

A good friend of mine says he prefers harsher feedback because he feels like it will make him a better writer. I clearly don't react the same way. Perhaps different people just prefer different styles of feedback. But I also want to know if something just isn't working at all. Just let me down easy maybe? I wish I wasn't so sensitive about this.

I also think that at some point you have to stop accepting criticism about a poem. You have to decide that as a poet, you have done your best work and that you have a vision and you believe in it. Or that you know you need to scrap the whole damn thing and start again. Sometimes you might need to just take the poem, light it on fire, bury the ashes and grown a new poem from that earth. But we need to trust ourselves as artists. I think that knowing yourself, believing in your vision and deciding that your work is worth the effort can be the most difficult battle.
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