Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Illusory Control

I've been thinking more about poetry and emotional valence, but I find my thoughts are not particularly coherent tonight. The articles I referenced a few days ago struck a chord with me. I'd like more emotional content in my poems--I'm trying not to shy away from it. But when I think about trying to define what I mean by 'the emotional', I find, at least right now, that I get nowhere.

'The emotional' might be parallel to the confessional: what the speaker, the "I" reveals of the self. Is simple self-revelation an act of emotional complexity or the definition of emotion? I think now--to quote a Mark Halliday poem--"are you a jet pilot of eternity? I think not."

'Emotional' has such a loaded gender signification in our culture. Not so much the noun, 'emotion,' but the adjective, 'emotional.' She was so emotional. It's an old association, dating back to the Renaissance. It's almost as though women don't own emotion, they only express it, and badly, at that. Is 'male' expression of emotion an emotional state tempered with restraint and control? Wordsworth defines it nearly thus in Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. Poetry is 'emotion recollected in tranquility.' He notes that though poetry is the 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings' that it must be tempered with thought or thoughtfulness.

That's why Plath's "Daddy" is so interesting. Here is raw emotion, barely tempered with thought or thoughtfulness--it borders on shriek, which makes it so gutsy. To say that it is not controlled is crazy: it is intricately plotted with rhyme and rhythm, association and connotation, but the thought and thoughtfulness in it do not rise to the level of rhetoric or reflectiveness. They are subterranean. The poem is entirely in the present moment. In the moment of the emotion(s): angry, bitter, frightful, torn. But it revels in the illusion of the shriek, in the illusion of losing control. That, and Plath's "Lady Lazarus" are on the same plane. Of course, the two poems play against our conventions of the out-of-control, emotional female.

How can you get poems to straddle the divide between emotion tempered by thoughtfulness and illusory control?

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