Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Poetry, Halloween, and Healing

Hello Friends:

It seems like a really strange combination; poetry, Halloween, and healing.  But the triple-point of these topics has been on my mind as October rolls forward. (And I thought it a perfect topic to finally get in on The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, supported by very friendly blogger Marj aka Thriver on Survivors Can Thrive!  The carnival is being hosted by Tracie of From Tracie.)

I have been a reader and writer of poetry since I was fourteen. Given the, shall we say, 'unsettled' nature of my childhood, I felt I had plenty to write about. So naturally, like many other young people, writing became an avenue to express my inner turmoil, to help me view it more objectively, and eventually, to try to heal.

So why is Halloween in this picture? Two reasons. I have a sort of gothic alter ego who has always loved moonlight, monsters, the sound of dry leaves, and tales of things that go bump in the night. So the first reason Halloween is part of all this is - when I write poetry that comes from a dark place, it has this sort of gothic feel to it. Sometimes it is subtle, and other times not so much. But edgy goth, or even horror-like imagery is how I often express the mess inside. Here is an example; a poem I had published in The Newsletter Inago in 1999. It seemed apt for the 'harvest' time of year.

Missing Seedcorn
Sorrow reaps the harvest
of frustration's seed
as the mirror of each
pool or lake holds something
a little further from the dream.
It was ... what?
Besides, who can remember
the words out of the warm dark,
whispers from night's fertile seed
of cornucopia secrets, now
starving in your barren brain.
Malnourished, stagnant pond;
an early frost has come.
Newsletter Inago, Vol. 19, No. 6, June 1999

Being able to express this sort of inner pain, the sense of a seed losing its potential in neglect, is a healing act. For me, writing poems like this is an act of faith, and one that empowers me to confront my inner darkness. It's a chance to tap into a part of the brain that lies just below the conscious, and to bring forth images that need to be addressed. And might not be addressed any other way.

Okay, so the second reason Halloween makes me think of poetry - it has to do with my recent spate of poem writing in April. April is National Poetry Writing Month, and I chose to write a poem a day to 'celebrate' (or torture myself, depending on your view of that sort of commitment :)  I knew I was going to use art to inspire my poetry, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn't going to be just any art. The art that was inspiring me was quirky, dark, semi-humorous horror art, like the sort created by Tim Burton. This art also has a focus on the fears of children, which played into my own memories, and ended up inspiring about twenty poems about the darker aspects of childhood.

Normally, I don't like to put unpublished poetry in blog posts, since most publishers consider that published or at least it means that "first electronic rights" are already taken. But this post seems like a good cause, so here's a draft of a poem that came from my April poem run.

Pins and Needles
The muslin doll has
X's for eyes and a smile
drawn with black marker.
There is a large hatpin
with a red ball end planted
squarely in the middle of
her forehead.  There is
another in her stomach,
two in the chest, several
in the back and legs, and
just one stabbed through
the right hand.  The doll
doesn't mind except it
makes it hard to walk;
arms straight out, legs
bowed.  She trips a lot,
and when she falls she
always hears screaming.
Copyright Blue Morpho's real person, no touchy

I like the ambiguity, here. Who is screaming? Who is it that is using this apparently even-tempered doll for their voodoo dirty work? It makes me sad - literally in the poem the doll falls, driving the pins deeper, and causing pain to the target of the voodoo - yet just the image of someone screaming at a child when it falls, instead of feeling sympathy, really tweaks me. I like the idea that the doll is a metaphor both for the neglected child, and the act of the child seeking revenge. She causes pain to those who have hurt her, but note that in the process, she hurts herself.

It is in this that I find some healing. This reaffirms my growing commitment to not become the thing I hate. To not become the same bitter, depressed, self-absorbed, self-hating, mangled thing that caused my neglect, abuse, and subsequent mental illnesses in the first place. I may want to find ways to enact my revenge fantasies, but I have to realize that getting too caught up with that is not healthy. When I use those pins, it's me I'm hurting.

So what are your feelings on this? Does this dark aspect of poetry appeal to you? Do you find any catharsis in the creepy Halloween season? Read any Poe recently?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Happy Pumpkin by Dave Hogg on Flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0


Andy said...

I admit I have never been into horror or any of those genres (Though I "enjoyed" reading Kafka and All Quiet on the Western Front well enough, though those aren't considered horror even though they have horrific elements...).

I do have a question about the doll poem and writing for you-- you note the ambiguity in the poem. Do you in your mind resolve the ambiguity, or do you feel that you yourself don't necessarily understand what's lurking in there?

More generally, if someone interprets your writing differently than you'd intended, how often do you gain insight from that rather than seeing it as a misinterpretation?

From Tracie said...

I want to start off by saying thank you for the further explanation you gave for the second poem. I often have a hard time with poetry and it can frustrate me...but that explanation really allowed the poem to resonate with me.

The imagery is so powerful and the thought that when you use those pins, you are being hurt. I get that.

I also loved how you called writing poems "an act of faith". It reaffirms how writing can be such a powerful tool in healing.

Thank you so much for sharing this with the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

Patricia Singleton said...

Writing can be a great tool for healing. It has helped my own healing process tremendously. There is a darkness to child abuse that many of us feel but few express.

Marj aka Thriver said...

I think you are a very talented poet. I'm glad that you can deal with feelings this way. Poetry has helped me in that way as well.

And thanks for the plug about the blog carnival. I'm so glad you joined us!

Ivory said...

Hi! No, no catharsis as this kind of stuff is what triggers when I get into it too deeply - such as Poe. Interesting, tho, Poe is one of my favs. I also love the Fall season (dry leaves, moonlight thru cloudy skies, scary tales, ets). Writing has become a way for me to heal, to process and to put a horrific past in the past, where it belongs.

The Blue Morpho said...

Wow, lots of comments, thanks!

Andy - I don't need to fully resolve the ambiguity in a poem, in my own mind. I expect a variety of interpretations, since every reader brings a different context to each poem. As long as the emotional pivot of the poem remains intact, then minor 'facts' about what is happening, or different interpretations, are just fine with me.

The Blue Morpho said...

Tracie - Some poems are just emotional images, like abstract art, and so don't seem to really have a 'plot'. I used to do more of that, but now I want my poetry to be more widely accessible, more generous. So I try hard to make the imagery both effective and generally understandable. Thanks for hosting the Blog Carnival!

The Blue Morpho said...

Patricia - Writing is so powerful, I'd be a lot more messed up without it. Like you said, it gives a chance to express what sometimes can be expressed in no other way. I'm sure if I could paint or draw, I'd be using those venues as well. Thanks for reading and commenting!

The Blue Morpho said...

Marj - Thanks for the complement! And like you I am always on the lookout for poetry that speaks to my heart and enables me to heal further.

The Blue Morpho said...

Ivory - Thanks for reading and the comment. I can see from your profile why you'd find all the Halloween imagery so triggering. It was brave of you to even read the post at all! It's great that you can still enjoy the fall season in spite of all that.

Leslie said...

I'm a Halloween Scrooge...I don't care for halloween...perhaps in part because I hate orange, :)

I love your poetry though. I like the idea of using poetry in this way.

Amy said...

Your poems are wonderful, and truly speak to a sense of loss behind the pain.

I don't know where I'd be without writing and poetry. Anything that provides us with a metaphor for our feelings of loss and pain helps us to process those feelings, even if we don't understand them right away. It's clear that you understand that, through your own writing and reading.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey Leslie and Amy: Thanks for the comments about my poetry, I am really glad you like it. Let's hear it for writing as therapy. I'd have lost what was left of my mind without it.

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