During a recent session with a regular Saturday morning workshopping** group, one of our number was surprised into proper tears, hearing her poem read – we do the ‘read it yourself first then someone else volunteers to read it’ practice. It was a poem in two columns, which the poet read down the first column and then down the second. The second reading was across the columns. The poem contained emotionally charged material about a tricky relationship with a father, transparent in the first reading, as a narrative from the poet’s pov. The second reading fractured the narrative and revealed a much more tender and complex set of vignettes. It is a very good poem.
Among ideas of form and accident, what it made me question was how fellow poets feel when they are moved – to tears or laughter – by their own work – not during the process of writing but when a piece is ‘finished’?
Being emotionally reticent myself, I am quite suspicious of the (very) few of my own poems which I have to really steel myself to read aloud. I don’t feel this about others’ poems and can be trashed as easily by poetry with blatant designs on me as by more subtle assassins. I think it’s because I don’t seem to be very discriminating in my emotional responses to certain arrangements of words that I distrust my ability to judge any of my own work which draws tears, worry it’s trite.
Laughter is another thing. I’m blessed with the facility to keep myself amused without any sense of unease. It’s great if I can make others laugh with me, but it’s sometimes even funnier if they don’t.
**I think I’m going to take my prompt from Tony Hoagland, stop saying ‘workshop’ and say ‘playgroup’ instead.
Tony Hoagland's Real Sofistikashun ( Graywolf Press) and Kate Fox's The Oscillations (Nine Arches)