Sometimes when I meet new people, it comes up in conversation that I write poetry. The odds are good that the other person will say “I’ve written some poems” or “I wrote some poetry in high school.” If I ask whether they are still writing or why they stopped, the typical answers are “I never showed them to anyone,” “I wasn’t very good,” or “It was just high school.”
Many of us wrote those “purging” poems in our teen years. There is so much going on during that time when everything in our lives feels huge, and we know that we need to wrangle our emotions or burst from the seams. Some take up a form of physical expression or release, playing sports or taking up dance. Some grab a guitar or sit behind a drum kit. Some of us take up pen and paper (or keyboard) and contain our explosions in print.
Some folks use that catharsis and take it further, learning to craft their work. They take a step back and use a more detached view. They edit it and find better ways to communicate those emotions. Eventually, they may be brave enough to show their poetry to the world at large.
While this kind of crafting may seem evolutionary, it doesn’t replace purging. In my experience, poems come into being in several different ways.
- There is a problem or concept that needs to be worked out
- Some event of my life makes me think and I need to process it
- A writing prompt catches my attention.
- Some event in my life or the world at large generates a strong emotion
In those first three cases, words come out on paper with a certain amount of step by step logic. The process of finding the exact word makes the writer think at a deeper level of granularity. We are forced to do the analysis that we may not do otherwise.
In the last case, my emotional teacup gets filled to the brim. The best way to keep from over-flowing is still to put pen to paper and release some of the pent-up energy. I take that anger or grief and break it down to ink marks on a page. I can be as aggressive or snarky as I want on paper, without letting it out in public. Again, the process of getting the right words helps analysis of the situation.
Some of these “purge” poems will get edited, crafted, improved on, and eventually shared. Some of these poems will stay just as they are. Both results are valid, both useful to the poet.
As much as our teen years can be filled with the angst of painful growth, adults also have many things that fill our days with love, anxiety, pain, passion, grief, or hope. When we are fit to burst, we can still put pen to paper, purge our souls for good or ill. We can decide later if the poem will stay-as-purged or craft it and ready it for the world.
If we want to craft our poetry, we can learn to improve our skills by taking a class at the local community college, finding a class online, or joining a local critique group. In any case, both purging and crafting are worthwhile approaches to writing poetry and neither of them needs to be relegated to the past.