poetry isn't soul magic

A close friend, also a poet, once asked me why I write poetry, and I replied that, among other things, it gives me a chance to make my narcissism palatable to others. She laughed. Her husband laughed. It was no joke. It seems to me that narcissism is ineluctably at the heart of poetry, maybe of every human enterprise. One-third of people will think I’m an idiot for bothering to state this. Two-thirds will think I’m repugnant for suggesting that poetry isn’t soul magic. But, however magical your soul, doesn’t its unveiling imply a touch of egotism? In lyric poetry, especially, some degree of narcissism seems unavoidable. Even Dickinson and Hopkins sought readers at some point. Now let us observe a moment’s silence for the Unknown Poets, who have defeated narcissism and won oblivion. Then, since there’s nothing to build on there, let us quickly turn in gratitude to their egotistical fellow poets, who reached through self-regard to give the bitter world a little beauty and insight.

- Joshua Mehigan, from his essay "I Thought You Were A Poet: A Notebook" in the July/August 2011 issue of Poetry Magazine.


daniela elza said...

Thanks for the link. Hey I did go and read the whole thing. Some questions this essay inspires:

Did I find most of this essay bothersome?
Does it undermine the reader?

Why do we think the reader reads poetry?
While obsessing about what the writer is trying to say, do we forget about the reader?

The reader is a whole new world. I am the reader.

Does a reader with a mental illness read differently from one without?

Can we claim no one has a mental illness?
What is normal? Whose normal?

Doesn't mental illness exists across different occupations?
He admits.

But we get hung up on poets.
He also says:
"One problem with publicly declaring that I have a mood disorder, addiction, and so on, is that some poets and other natural iconoclasts will consider it a type of bragging, as if I were a guitarist claiming to have special fingers."

What about play?

I appreciated the moments when he was honest, though, and contributes insight to what it is to be a writer with a mental illness. Where he forgets to be too "smart" or self-indulget and fades away...to let something bigger shine. Where I as a reader have the freedom to explore.

Did I just read through too fast?
I will take this to my blog. Sorry for this length. Words do tend to pile up, don't they.:-)

Rob Taylor said...

You're always welcome to pile up words here, Daniela ;).

Thanks for your thoughts. Some good questions there.