On Poetry and Culture Shock

Poetry and feelings

I say that I don’t like exhibitionism in poetry. Mar says that all literature is somehow exhibitionist, since I want my works to be read. The easiest way of explaining where is our disagreement is that my exhibitionism is “Look! Look what I wrote!” while the exhibitionism that I dislike goes “Look! These are my feelings! I wrote a poem about them, too!” Writing poetry about your own feelings is great. Showing it to others is often embarrassing.

But Mar’s comment prompts me to talk of something I had meant to for a while. A famous definition of poetry in Wordsworth’s:

Poetry is the overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquillity.

La poesía son sentimientos intensos y descontrolados, rememorados en calma.

Our friend Wordsworth, a bit of a sentimental Romantic (not as bad as Bécquer, though), identified poetry with lyrical poetry. Evidently, the Iliad is poetry, but it doesn’t count. Verse satire doesn’t count either. And so on. So we are left with lyrical poetry, including religious poetry too. The powerful feelings: it assumes you have powerful feelings. Can detached people write good poetry? Can you write, for example, good love poetry if you are not in love, or even in you have never been? My answer would be yes. It seems that for Wordsworth, lyrical poetry has to be autobiographical: if it was so, he was wrong. Who the hell cares if Garcilaso’s Elisa (reading in English? Elisa is the Spanish equivalent of Stella, from Astrophel and Stella) was based on a flesh-and-bone woman? Who cares if I wrote a poem in the first person about a friend’s feelings?

I’m being too hard on poor Wordsworth. Lyrical poetry needs feeling after all. Then there is the second part: recollected in tranquillity. Hey, that’s like haikus! You have a powerful experience, whatever it is. “Recollected in tranquillity” means that your feeling becomes poetry by treating it with care and a bit of discipline. It is not enough to just throw it on the page. I call “exhibitionist” the poetry that I dislike because it is both confessional, intimate (in Spanish I would say “intimista”) and at the same time too simple, too unoriginal, bad in some way that makes me think that the main purpose of the poet was to get their feelings written down rather than creating something special and separate from himself or herself.

1 comentario

Maria del Mar -

I can perfectly see your point now. As old Shaft would say " You´re damn right!".