Friday, May 14, 2010

The Difficulty of Writing Personal Poems

One of the difficult things for me as a poet is handling poems that contain details from my “real life” because, once the poem is out there, one cannot control how the poem is read by every reader. Someone will always see something you didn’t intend, or misread something you did intend.

But this is not necessarily a bad thing. If a poem evokes a reaction, that means the reader was moved by it. If I can move someone with my words, that means a great deal to me.

My poem, “Lessons,” has evoked unexpected reactions from a couple of readers. The main reaction they have had is to see the father in a negative light. As the daughter of the father in the poem, I can only see him as a whole, and not the sum of the two instances mentioned in this poem.

I could have included details about how my father wholly supported my mother’s desire to finish her nursing degree, even at a time when he had just been laid off from his job. I could have included details about the encouragement and support my father gave to me and my sisters to do anything we wanted with our lives.

But then, this would have been a very different poem.

Instead, this is a poem about the ways one learns about the body. Lessons we are taught from books, as well as from real life. That is what the poem means to me.

1 comment:

Giulia said...

Oh, sigh, yes. It's even worse (to me) when it's not very personal but details I've picked up about various people, varying times & place. So if anyone reads other poems, or knows something about one (pretty easy if you've unwisely given interviews), then forget it. They think everything is about the author. I've given up & am searching for a non-ridiculous nom de plume.

I spent way too much time in a (patient) writing group some years ago worrying over "is this too mean? Is this too negative about this person?" Holy cow. (Someone did say that--a much-published poet so it struck me as funny.) They pointed out that no, it wasn't mean, it was tough, uncompromising on real details (one of the few times something was pretty much as it was--or as I experienced it), named no one, & if the person didn't say a thing, no one would know. Of course that person trumpeted like a bull elephant that it was all about him. (Hey, they ought not have bragged--really.)

Anyway, I love your poem.