I went to a poetry workshop today. So you are probably thinking that I had lots of fun and felt extremely inspired and excited that I did. But I'll be frank and tell you that I didn't.
The workshop was very strange. I found myself surrounded by a lot of older women - upper-class, judging from their clothing, though that isn't to say there were no other guys. The poet who led the workshop, while nice, did not really have the same mentality to me towards poetry. She encouraged us to do exercises in free-writing and to not think about anything: we were to just tap into the energy of the words.
Now, I do agree that words have different types of energy. A word can have specific or variable rhythms, pitches, and sound; it
brings with it particular connotations, histories, and associations. However, that is precisely my problem with free-writing. I can't not think when I write poetry because I need to consider all these sounds and meanings and associations.
In my opinion, poetry needs to reveal itself to be conscious. If I just took a bunch of words, and slapped them into lines, I would not be able to say that I'm writing poetry. Perhaps it is just me, by the word "poetry" implies some sort of deliberateness, some sort of awareness in the sounds and the ways to play with words, and what I was doing today was just breaking things up into lines. (I guess you could do that if you were William Carlos Williams, but you could say interesting things about his use of meter). Honestly, I have enough of a problem calling a few of my works 'poems' because I don't feel like my use of language in those works is quite conscious enough.
Perhaps that is why I like rhyme so much -- because it gives the sense that the poet is aware of the sound, and that the poet is skilled enough to weave the rhymes into a meaningful pattern. Maybe I'm just more of a technical writer, and I don't mean I'm a science/engineering writer: I mean I enjoy using analyzing and using rhetorical techniques. Without rhyme, I feel lost. In fact, since I started writing again, all of my poems contain rhyme to varying degrees.
I think that "freewriting" just totally ignores the techniques that great poets have used in the past. I honestly don't think Shakespeare freewrote his sonnets; his metre is too regular for that. In the workshop, some of the women kept smiling serenely and nodding their head to everything the poet said, and in the back of my mind I just kept thinking "no... I don't really agree."
The workshop was just geared more towards people who wanted to open up their emotions and express themselves through an unfamiliar literary form. I don't have a problem with that. I did though start to feel sick in that room. The combination of the heat and the blatant emotionalism was getting to me. One of the upper-class women actually cried because she got so emotional. I didn't notice until she made a comment about how emotional the workshop was, and said "You guys saw me crying". Apparently she had transformed a line about life into a line about death. I know, I'm being really insensitive and cynical here. But I can't help it. I myself was starting to feel strangely emotional about nothing whatsoever and I just wanted to leave the room.
Is the role of poetry to capture overflowing emotions? Perhaps it can be. But at the same time, I also believe that the emotion in poetry has to be somehow controlled and reined in. There has to be enough skill present in the poem that I can believe that the poet is someone who I can trust knew what he or she was doing. Furthermore, everyone gets emotional at times, but I believe we have a responsibility to put that emotion to use. If we all just spewed out emotions and arranged them in lines and published them... then what good are poems? What is the poem's function in the world if it can't persuade, if it doesn't consider that there will be an audience, if it does not alter societal discourse in any way? What is the point of writing another poem when there are so many out there already?
I really don't think emotionalism and consciousness necessarily exist as two separate spheres. Indeed, I think the times at which I feel the most inspired to and capable of writing are when they act in tandem with each other: when I am consciously using metre, sound, language to express emotions, and when simultaneously I'm vividly emotional about this conscious experience. When I'm solely emotional, I don't write poems; I write diary entries. When I'm solely conscious, I don't write poems; I write flat, uninteresting lines.
I realize I do sound cynical, insensitive, and perhaps a bit judgmental and defensive. Also I do not want to deter or intimidate anyone from writing or enjoying poetry; however, in my opinion, there is a difference between being knowledgeable and humble about the techniques of poetry and completely ignoring them in favour of unbounded emotion. It is like saying anyone could paint a picture if they "looked to their heart for inspiration" - yes, everyone can do that, but it takes years, talent, effort, and luck to internalize an understanding of the elements of visual art and more to develop the technique and vision to employ them. To use another analogy, i could of course say that "everyone can do physics" but it takes years and years to get an intuition for the field so that one can make educated, well-supported hypotheses and create precise, accurate experiments.
Someone please comment and challenge my beliefs: I need an outside opinion. As for now, this is where my argument stands.