Tania's Words

here is an empty shell- a resonant shadow- waiting

Archive for Persephone

Persephone, Emily Dickenson, and all that poetic jazz.

I have found that in the last year, year and a half, I have let my creative muscle go completely unused. I know there are several good and not so good reasons for this. However,  now that I am wanting to use it again, I find myself frustrated.  I tried to write a poem the other night which, honestly, kind of sucked.

Do you remember when you were in high school lit class and your teacher would just jabber on and on about Emily Dickenson and the metaphor for death in this or that poem? After class you’d congregate with your friends and roll your eyes, so wise, knowing that there was no way Dickenson really meant to infuse that poem with so much extra stuff.

Wait was that just my school?

When I went off to college, and was privileged enough to get to work with Diane Wakoski for three wonderful, if not brutal semesters of poetry writing,  I was surprised to learn just how wrong I was.  While I am forever grateful to Diane for teaching me that the best poetry isn’t just pretty words (in fact, quite often they are not pretty words at all), but that good poetry is like great irony- saying one thing when you are meaning something else.

The second semester I was in Diane’s class, I wrote a poem about a woman (a specific woman, if you care, although I’d rather not name names) whose daughter is only just starting to realize that there is something very wrong with her mother, even though she doesn’t know quite what that is yet.  Originally, the poem was pretty much a straightforward story, descriptive and almost prosy.  Really it only had a few salvageable lines in the whole thing. The problem was that I was trying to write about something using words when there really weren’t any words to explain what had happened to this young girl. At that moment in time, she didn’t really know what was wrong, or that anything was wrong. She just felt something. She saw something in her mother that tripped a kind of inner switch. No one else saw what she did at that moment, and no one else felt it. But she did and it stayed with her into adulthood. As an adult, she knew and could tell me that what was wrong was that her mother was an alcoholic, and bipolar.   But that’s a story, not a poem. The poem I was trying to write was capturing that moment.

Anyway, I left that poem for a long time. Maybe four or five years. Until one day, completely randomly, I ran into a story about Persephone. Keep in mind that I had completely forgotten that the original poem existed at this point. So I was interested enough in this story to do some research (I am woefully ignorant when it comes to this mythology stuff).    I started to kind of see this woman’s disorders differently. In another life, would she have ended up in the same place? Would she have chosen the life she ended up leading? I started to see her as a kind of Persephone, who was bound to Hades for the majority of her life, able to leave only for a short period of time, all because some guy forced her to eat some pomegranate seeds. Guys can be so lame.

Ok, so it isn’t exactly the same. Still, I could see how this girl’s mother would never have chosen the life she ended up leading.  I knew her daughter well enough to know that her mother tried, time and again to sober up, to clean up her life.  But her life was inextricably mixed up with the alcoholism. It was as if she too, had eaten the pomegranate seeds, and therefore, would never really be able to leave Hades.

So one night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I was instead kept awake by all of these thoughts. The next day I sat down and spent hours pounding out what has become my favourite poem to date. While I am sure that will change as time goes by (and if it doesn’t, how sad would that be?).

Anyway, I wanted to write about this because poetry, and the art of poetry has been on my mind for a little while now. As I try to get back to a creative and poetic kind of mental state, it is important to remind myself that I won’t get it right the first time, or second, maybe even the third. But also, I wanted to remind myself that it is hard for a reason. If it was just pretty words on a piece of paper, anyone could do it. As it is, I am still not sure that I can do it. Knowing though, how much it takes, and how hard it is, helps.   To me, the art of poetry is the ability to say something true, something important, without saying it directly, because a lot of time, the direct words are the ones that clutter up the true emotion behind the statement. They make it prosy, or over dramatic, cliched or trite.  A good poem will get right at the intuition behind it, even if you don’t see it right away. So, to answer my naive 17 year old self, Yes. Emily Dickenson did indeed intend to put all that in there.