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Why I Hate Poetry

The less life experience they have the better; the less they’ve seen of the world, the less frequently their fragile worldview has been tested, the more they will cling to the premise that if only they had the right facts they would be able to come to the correct conclusion. – TLP

He is ultimately ineffable, though I used to believe with sentimental assurance that I would be able to capture the essence of his being. I started writing about him long before he died, rehearsing my account of his death. I figured if I wrote about him honestly enough, even scathingly enough, I could preserve him. His infected body would be replaced by the body of the book. He’d be alive now – he’d be this – you’d be turning him in your palm. 

And then he died. Nothing in my thirty-five years had prepared me for that.

His actual dying was so painful that it ruined my plot, and I had nothing believable to report. 

Can I admit that my students saved my life? As much as I yearned to save theirs? I was awed by them the day I stepped into class. They wanted my approval. Could they tell how much I wanted theirs? I taught them how to write a sentence  – fussed over word choice, where to put the word that carried the most emotional weight – the kind of material you can teach and discuss. 

What I can’t express is how grateful I felt for their everyday lives. There is nothing as selfish and luxurious as pain, because it’s all about you. My lover’s death was terrible and special. Watching it, I felt terribly special too. Afterwards, though, I was tired of being important. I didn’t want the glamour and egotism of pain anymore. My students taught me to get over myself. I was moved by their stating the plain facts of their day. I wanted them to know mine. – John Weir, What I Did Wrong (abridged) 

I.

I’m a writer. I’ve read that you’re not supposed to call yourself this unless other people call you this too. It’s like dancing alone in your spare time while working a full-time job and then introducing yourself to people as a dancer. “Hi, I’m a dancer.” “Great, where do you dance?” “Alone in my basement.” Fine for impressing vulnerable men / women, I guess, but not so fine when you’re looking for a job.

HOWEVER! I write all the time. You could almost call it a compulsion. So I hope the “real” writers won’t mind me calling myself that.

II.

Part of the reason why I’ve never been published is because I don’t know what to call the things I write. It’s not journalism, that’s for sure. Most of my pieces lack the structure required of essays (beginning, middle, end). The few times I’ve allowed “real” writers to critique my work, I balked. (This is consistent since I was a child.) I understood exactly what they wanted me to do with my work, and I knew that if I did it I would get published, and I also knew that the whole point of what I’d written would be lost.

So there’s my writing – I want to tell the truth at any cost, and I’m completely unwilling to censor anything, but I also can’t bring myself to frame the truth in cold, objective facts.

Most people call that poetry.

Here are the reasons why I’ve begun to hate this genre:

  1. It has no real standards. And when a genre has no real standards, the merit of any piece is based entirely on either the reputation of its maker or on its popularity. This explains why Jose Garcia Villa can write a poem that isn’t even a poem, just a semicolon, but if you do a similar thing for your creative writing class it’ll get thrown out before you have a chance to explain your work in big words. This also explains the wild success of Lang Leav and why most university poets hate her work so much – there is a direct clash between the two factors of merit (she has no artistic reputation to speak of, but she’s nevertheless immensely popular).
  2. The biggest demographic currently that produces and consumes most poetry is my demographic – rich-to-middle-class, white or Americanized young girls. This is why so much current poetry focuses on issues that are unique to young people, and especially young girls. Despite perfect lives full of family, friends, and all our basic needs being cared for, they (formerly I) will not write “Clear and sweet is my soul / and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul,” but “The trees are naked and lonely / I keep trying to tell them new leaves will come around in the spring / but you can’t tell trees those things / they’re like me they just stand there and don’t listen.” Me, I. Mine. Never you, them, they, unless as they relate to me and I. There are many possible factors that enable this deep and pervasive narcissism, but the most potent is the fact that grief is addictive for some people. This explains why so many people are so desperate to cling to their pain, to the point of breaking up with partners who make them uncharacteristically happy, refusing to seek professional help that could be easily available, sticking with self-destructive peers and basically acting like total shitheads.
  3. Sour grapes. I submitted a suite of poems to a university publication last December and it wasn’t accepted.
  4. My dog died. 

III.

gerbil.jpg

Before S. died, I thought there was no hurt I could possibly experience to which the art of my mind would not be sympathetic. I’ve been chronically lonely my whole life. I’ve had many painful breakups. I’ve tried to kill myself.

None of that prepared me for the pain of losing her.

For a few weeks following her death, after my family had put away her bed and her collar and her clothes and posted eulogies on Facebook, after I’d visited my psychiatrist and increased my meds, after I’d emphatically refused all offers for another dog, I knew what I had to do.

I had to write a poem.

It would be the most beautiful poem I had ever written in my entire life. None of my previous works would compare. Five years of love and companionship, every tender moment, every funny little anecdote, every memory and unfulfilled dream I had for her, all somehow condensed into neat lines on a page. A page that other people could then read and know her, too. And when they knew her they would love her, just as I did. It was impossible not to. If I could just find the right words…

But every time I started, I would just begin to sob. And there would be no more words. Just a simple, overwhelming, monotonous pain.

No story. No conclusion. No beauty. Only pain.

In my lost phone, there was a note with the few halting lines I’d started. I told myself I could always continue it any time. Now that my phone is gone I have to face the fact that I’m probably never going to write that poem.

IV.

Since my dear S. is probably never going to get her poem, I’m just going to state the simple facts.

It was night. We often took walks together at night. I parked the car beside the sidewalk and called her out of the house. She came running out of the gate. Before we left, I decided to get something from the car. I had headphones on. I didn’t hear the car coming.

She was about 20 feet away from me. I saw the headlights before I heard the car. Right after I saw the headlights, I heard a crack. Then I heard a tiny yelp. Then I saw the car reverse over her body.

In that second I knew she would die.

In the next second I saw her leg twitch.

In the second after that she was still.

I stood in the middle of the road and screamed, a long, loud scream. It was a sound that I had never heard before. It seemed like it was coming from somewhere else.

Then I ran to her. She was dead. Her skull was crushed and her mouth was slightly open.

I knelt on the ground and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed.

A man and a woman got out of the car and they were talking to me but I couldn’t stop looking at her and screaming. The maid came out and talked to them and tried to talk to me but I still couldn’t stop screaming.

I reached out with one hand and touched her fur. Blood was pooling under her crushed head.

The maid got a blanket. While she was doing that, I was screaming and snot and saliva were pooling on the warm concrete under me. The headlights were in my face.

When she got the blanket I wrapped S.’s body in it. A few moments ago it was S. Now it was S.’s body, because S. was dead.

I carried her dead body from the road into the garage. I sat on the garage floor and held her body. The blood seeped through the blanket and smeared my arm and dripped onto the floor and onto my clothes. My screams softened into sobbing. I sat and stroked the body until the body was cold. Then I folded the blanket over it and went upstairs.

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