The Core Within and Other Matters

I wish more people would read and listen to poetry. I wish they wouldn’t dismiss it as linguistic egotism. I wish they would try to listen to it without judgement and disdain. Instead, I wish they would try to hear and feel the emotions carried in the words. Poetry conveys emotion better than prose, I think. I say that even though I prefer to write prose (perhaps because I’m far better at prose than poetry). But poetry is more powerful, more magical, and it plumbs more thoroughly the deepest recesses of the soul—if there is such a thing as a soul. If it’s not the soul, then it’s the core of humanity; that source of decency and goodness and unadulterated morality I believe resides in all of us, if only for a time.

Depending on the poet, of course, poetry has the capacity to feed a longing for connection with humanity that once was, I think, as common as the air we breathe. But over time we have become hardened and skeptical of anything that has the potential of revealing emotional soft spots. We have allowed ourselves to fill those tender spaces with scar tissue made from pain and broken promises. The desire for connections to humanity has withered, transforming into a thirst for control and a need to avoid emotional engagement.

People tend to be afraid of poetry, fearful they will not understand or appreciate it. And they won’t if they don’t allow themselves to be transported by words. The unfortunate fact about poetry, like all literature and all attempts at communication, is that much of it is garbage. But like its literary brethren, bad poetry can—like spoiled food—quickly be recognized and discarded. Too many of us seem to think we have to taste it and ingest it and pretend to enjoy it, even though we sense it is not good.  Once we get over that false obligation to enjoy even poetry we find off-putting or offensive or utterly self-absorbed, we can enjoy the good stuff; the stuff that fills us with joy or tears or understanding.

Perhaps there’s a better way to judge poetry than “I don’t know poetry, but I know what I like,” but I don’t know what that might be. I do not believe poetry is meant to be dissected, its dismembered corpse explained in cold, clinical terms. Poetry is meant to be felt, like a lover’s caress or a blade ripping into one’s midsection.

***

Today, I am presenting a workshop on Point of View (POV) for writers. I cannot for the life of me understand why I thought I would enjoy doing that. First person. Second person. Third person. Limited. Omniscient. Objective. Subjective. Unreliable narrator. How to avoid “head-hopping.” In some ways, the topic bores me to tears. In others, I know I need periodic refreshers just to make sure I don’t make mistakes…unwittingly. But I rather enjoy breaking the “rules” of writing, though. Like interspersing second person with third person limited. I do not like third person omniscient, though some great literature has been written from the third person omniscient POV; e.g., 1984 (Orwell) and The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne).

***

I’ve written several more vignettes that might, someday, merit more work. They might even warrant efforts to turn them into short stories. Or, they could find themselves comfortably ensconced in one of my several dozen novels yet to be written. Who knows? I don’t. I don’t pretend to. I’ll just keep writing.

One of my vignettes could find a place in a “bodice-ripper” in a decidedly modern setting. Illicit love affairs seem to be the “go-to” topics to grab readers’ attention. Though, admittedly, I’m not particularly interested in readers’ attention. The real world is what captures my imagination. But it’s not capturing it particularly well this very moment, so I’ll stop writing and, instead, go manufacture breakfast.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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