i’ve been trying to move away from the word “feeling” for a long time. poems that have feelings in them. it’s terrible, or at least i tell myself i should think so. and some kind of dichotomy has set itself up in my head, where a poem focused on feeling something can’t possibly also be focused on language. and really all i have to do to cause myself to stumble right now is to look at any recent piece that i’ve read and loved and recognize not only the immense swell of things that takes place in my body upon that reading, but also how carefully these poems still acknowledge and engage and are built directly into and from language.
i’ve spent too many years now confusing feeling with meaning, or just forgetting that they both exist and are two separate—sometimes inclusive but certainly exclusive as well—entities. it is a great thing to realize that once engagement between author & reader begins, or poem & reader, and the cultivation of meaning is attempted in that engagement, that feelings are appropriate and necessary and desired. that’s just it: i don’t want a poem to make sense for me. to appear as if it doesn’t want me to do any work for that. and therein lies my recognition this morning that neither do i want a poem to express feelings for me (i can do that myself) or to tell me specifically how to feel or what to feel. emotions (and i guess here i am talking about subjectivity, and thinking about Pound’s call for emotion and then Zukofsky’s call for objective emotion) should not be the attempt of the poet. if you sit down to write a poem because you’re feeling emotional, it will probably be terrible. i will give Wordsworth credit for recognizing the need for recollection and tranquility post-spontaneous overflow. but Wordsworth also wants to tell me how good poems should make me feel, and maybe even what to feel those feelings about, and even directs my language toward a limited realm of the vernacular (i’m not even sure what ordinary people means). the language i appreciate and am inspired by and cherish is that which, though it certainly excites in me a multitude of reactions and emotions, doesn’t talk to me about feelings and sense and what it’s doing and why it’s doing it. it does not guide me in an identical, shared emotion. it feels human but does not point directly to the human who made it, “the poem stands alone,” to quote a recent letter from a friend. Also from that letter: “subjective emotion in a poem is dangerous because the author is shoving too much of herself directly into/onto the work, which is then shoved onto/into the reader, which may be a lot to bear.”
my favorite: “there doesn’t need to be—can’t be—any evidence of this particular poet having written it, because that then creates a certain sort of pedestal in the work, an imbalance in the relationship between reader and writer, which could be a tipping point.” So to try and answer a question, i do prefer a constructed thing, a poem that reminds me i am a human and that poetry necessarily comes from bodies, though i prefer to carry such weight through the language.