Sara M. Robinson
Here are two questions for you: Do you have to be sad, depressed or angry to write good poetry? Does how you feel determine your subject matter?
I often read articles by other poets and essayists where they discuss how mood or state of mind influences their writing. Poets, as an historical bunch of writers, often brag they are in touch with all that surrounds them, and this plays a huge part in their subjects. I think this is very true, but often we are not in physical or even mental place where we can create poetic lines. This is where my writing journal comes in. I jot down how I feel or how the particular setting affected me, then later I come back to it to write.
Now, however, when I come back to the writing, my mood is no longer the same. For me, the return to my notes is more objective, less subjective or emotional. I don’t mean to say less involved; I only present to you that now the poetic part of my brain is “translating” the emotional part I felt at the time into worthy lines.
Meditative poems are examples, I think, of where you might experience a real emotional connection to the writing. Say, you lost a beloved pet, and you wanted to write about your feelings, but you simply were too saddened to compose. You let your mind and soul grieve, then you make some notes which later become the beautiful lines.
I’ve seen a lot of angry poems. One I read recently was from a poet who was particularly upset about a poetry class he was in. He was very angry at the instructor. This poet thought the instructor did not pay enough attention to him. So, this poem, to me, was more of a poison pen letter than a creative rendering. Maybe the poet should have used that version as notes and then created a poem about the heartbreak of disappointment or rejection. When you release your writing to the public, then you have engaged them, good or bad.
It can be tricky determining your emotional state and then turning it into poetry. What do you want your writing to do? Wallace Stevens wrote a poem, “Poetry is a Destructive Force.”
His first stanza goes like this: “That’s what misery is, / Nothing to have at heart. / It is to have or nothing./…” He goes on to use animals as metaphors to portray the violence man can have. But the poem is quiet, contemplative. That’s what makes his poem so good.
Think about your feelings and how you want to put them into verse. “I felt the coldness of time when my mother died. / Then I saw the sky, and felt warm suddenly…” S. Robinson
Until next time…
Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).