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Deploying poetry

I’m sitting in the café at Wegmans in State College, PA, listening to Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue and thinking about the way I use poetry in my life and whether I’m misusing it. Let me explain.

I write very publicly about my life. In fact, I also broadcast and podcast about my life. I post on Instagram about my life. I make TikToks about my life. In short, I live my life very openly. I don’t have millions of followers or anything like that, but the people who do follow me get a very accurate look at what I’m thinking and feeling. The good and the bad.

Also, the primary art I make is poetry. I’ve started getting into photography and I’ve always been a musician, but when it comes to expressing myself in some sort of heightened artistic way, I turn to poems.

If you put the preceding two paragraphs together, you get a person who speaks openly about his life through the medium of poetry.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend who is also a poet about this tendency of mine. My friend said (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here) that they eventually came to believe that writing things publicly, particularly about relationships, is just what people like me do. They said they sometimes used to be bothered by it, but eventually they asked, “Well, what else is he supposed to do?”

We’ll get back to that, but first I want to talk about a TikTok I saw a couple weeks back where the creator said that whenever you’re about to make a TikTok, ask yourself, “Is this for TikTok or for the group chat?” I thought that was a great piece of advice. Going back to the idea of public poetry, I might render that question as, “Is this for my blog or my notebook?”

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. If you’re reading these words right now, there’s an extremely good chance that you know that the love of my life and I ended our relationship two years ago. If you’re a longtime follower of mine, you’ve probably read dozens and dozens of poems about my former partner while we were falling in love and then while we were building and living our life together. And if you’ve read my writing for the past two years, you know that the majority has focused on the heartbreaking end of this relationship, and on my desire to reunite with my former partner.

The question I’m asking myself these days is whether this writing should be in a notebook, unseen by anyone but me, or on my blog, seen by anyone who cares to look. And most importantly, of course, potentially seen by the subject of the poems, who will remember why we were in love in the first place and realize that we should still be together.

I turn some of my poems into videos on social media. A commenter on one of them said, “These poems you write really make me wish your former partner knew how much you loved them and cared about them.” That comment really stopped me in my tracks. Because of course they do know. The problem isn’t that they don’t know, it’s that they don’t feel the same way. They’re perfectly entitled to not feel the same way. And I know they don’t. So, what’s the point of all these poems?

I’ve always told myself that writing poems is how I process my emotions. But it’s more than that. If processing were all I needed, a notebook would be just fine. I do more than that, though. I post them on my blog, on TikTok, on Instagram. I put them in the places where the people they’re about might see them. And I do this even though a poem has never, not once, fixed any relationship I’ve been in.

Moreover, I post them where other people might also see them. People not connected to the situation, but folks who I want to have a good opinion of me, to think of me as a caring, expressive person with his heart in the right place.  

I know next to nothing about Lord Byron, but I’ve always had this picture of him as a person who used his poetry to manipulate. To woo. To brag. To paint a larger-than-life picture of himself. And at the risk of a ridiculous comparison to one of the most famous poets in the English language, I do worry that I might be doing the same thing. Tainting the value of what I produce by using it the way I do.

I want to be clear that these poems aren’t calculated in their content. I write what I genuinely think and feel. The emotion is real. The worldview is real. Where the calculation enters the picture is in their deployment, not their creation.

This essay isn’t going to end with an answer. I still don’t know if what I’m doing is right. I’m not even sure if “right” comes into it. And I haven’t decided yet if I should turn to a notebook and away from blogging. Or only use the blog to post poems that aren’t related to relationships, which means I’d be posting very little poetry because that’s mainly what I write about.

Feel free to chime in in the comments. And thanks for reading.

Published in Poetry

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