Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Poetry and Manic-Depression

At my personal blog I just posted a piece on manic-depression and poetry. Poets suffer from manic-depression more than other artists, some reasons for which I offer.

My new book, "Unexpected Light," explores manic-depression among other subjects. In fact, portions of the book were reconstituted from a previous ms. called "Sine Wave," which was devoted to the experience of the disease.

It's fortunate that that ms. was not published--in the new book the poems about my mood disorder are spaced between other subjects. A whole book on manic-depression would have been too much for me, much less the reader.

How do I define poetry? "Language distilled into its most powerful form." It's the caviar of literature, and as such is not for everybody. Poems must be slowly delected, they cannot be rushed to find an ending. They should endure in the mind and the heart, vignettes of a deeper life. But poetry must allow for humor as well, as in my poem "God and Cheetos" or "Tonic." The latter is a rather childlike attempt at self-encouragement:


I will love myself today.
Here are some fuzzy slippers
and a lollipop,
a warm hug and a wet kiss.
Let me tuck this
old familiar blanket
around my shoulders
and read this poem
before I nap.

Whatever I do today,
I’ll approve.
If I spill milk, I’ll clap.
If I button my shirt wrong
it’s a new style.
If I wet my pants
it was on purpose.

My, how well I walk!
How well I speak!
It’s so good to be
good to myself.
Where have I been
all these sad, long years?

So poetry doesn't have to be depressing, it can also be uplifting, even if that means heavy lifting. Too much of poetry in general revisits the "sad, long years." I would like to see more celebratory poetry from myself and others. Walt Whitman, though long-winded, provides a good example of this, as do William Carlos Williams and Frank O'Hara, though the downside of celebratory poetry can sometimes be a lack of depth. We must have grief and joy, anger and fear, the whole panoply of human emotion compressed into a few lines to succeed as poetry. Have you written a poem lately?


C. E. Chaffin

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