I was all set to submit some of my shiny new poems to a couple of contests with great odds (or at least, there are lots of prizes and well-respected publications). As they recommend, I read a few of the previous winners first.
Well, once again, I felt like the awkward girl in the lunchroom holding her tray and searching for a place to sit. Is it a recent phenomenon that Good Poetry must be miserable stories of heart-wrenching trauma? One after another, death, illness, despair, violence...I felt like I do after reading the newspaper some mornings: blindsided by the misery of the human experience.
Now I know what William Carlos Williams said about poetry and newspapers, but I don't think he meant poetry is supposed to be more awful than the daily events. And of course I believe in the poet's right to write whatever he/she sees fit to write, not to mention the importance of digging deeply into one's own truth to produce compelling universal resonance out of individual experience. I am also not dissing the quality of the poems, because they were all extremely well-written and powerful.
It's just that I wonder sometimes if sharing trauma is the easy path to emotional resonance; that "truth" is too often equated with "pain." If it doesn't hurt, it's not true? Do we need to plumb the depths of our misery in order to connect with readers and editors? Sometimes, yes. But always?
In comparison, I feel like my poems will be seen as greeting cards. Or light "Ladies' Verse," condemned to the back pages of fluffy magazines as almost all women's poetry was in Victorian times. I mean, I'm writing about deep, thoughtful stuff, but more small moments, held up like a piece of glass to the light to determine whether it's special. Sure, some of it is about suffering, and maybe I don't plumb my own depths enough. But really, is that all poetry is? I always believed it was so much more.