Thursday, February 18, 2010

What are your boundaries?

This week I was told you can't write poetry about valentine's day. Also, the Titantic.

I don't like boundaries in poetry.

In theory, the whole universe is up for grabs, all of the galaxies and supernovas and black holes.
But in reality there are boundaries. In each culture there are topics that just can't be taken seriously in a poem. Some stories or words or events carry too much baggage.

I know this as an editor. I see a lot of poems about certain universal topics like 9/11 or divorce poems. Another common topics was the death of a grandparent. It seems that these universal experiences sometimes cross over into an area of sentimentality and the poem no longer works. I often got annoyed by people who wrote dead grandparent poems.

Until my grandfather died and I wrote one too.

I get irritated at the thought that people must write about pain or conflict. I think this is false. It's tension. I like to think that as poets, we can locate tension even when you think there isn't any. When I think about my grandfather, I think about having a person who loved me unconditionally. There really was nothing dark about our relationship. No pain, except in losing him to illness and old age. He had other sides to him I'm sure, but I didn't know those sides. I was always young to him and I knew that and it was okay. It wasn't just him. I was a part of it too, not knowing how to be an adult with him. But does that mean I have to invent some kind of pain or dark side of him in order for a poem to be successful? That I have to pretend I knew he had secrets? That wouldn't be the man I knew.

Maybe that is the tension. The tension of that relationship never changing since I was a little girl. And maybe that is the poet's real job. To find the tension and balance that with the sweetness, the love. Because we have to be able to write about love. Especially unconditional love. If that can't be touched in poems, I don't know why I try to write anything at all.

What topics do you feel are off-limits to you? Are there words or ideas or events or people you can just never let into your poetry?

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