Can Feng Shui Help Us Write Better Poetry?
Who do you write poetry for? Do you write for yourself or for an audience? And, if you write for an audience, do you write for other poets and critical acclaim or for “the people?”
If you are only writing for yourself, you probably don’t need a workshop or help with your writing. After all, if you are the only audience you will always know what you meant. For the rest of us, who realize that while we write not just to please ourselves, but also an audience somewhere, maybe we need to think about that audience.
What is Feng Shui?
One way we can think about our audience without knowing who they are is to look to Feng Shui for help in balancing our writing. Feng Shui is the art of balancing our environment with the five elements-water, fire, wood, metal and earth. If a room has too much of the fire element for instance you may feel overly stimulated. The same thing can be true in our writing. Too many tears may make the piece watery and out of balance. Too much anger or hostility may make the piece agitating and irritating. Too much explanation and too many facts may make the piece cold and dry.
If my experience is any sort of barometer, I think we have to consider different audiences. When I wrote only for my online support group after losing my husband in a freak accident at 41, I was a rousing success. I wrote what they felt. They weren’t looking for crafted poems, they appreciated the depth of the emotions, the trauma I expressed. I expressed my grief in poetry and they loved it urging me to publish.
Somehow, I realized that my poems at that stage were more therapy than poetry. I did nothing to craft them. They were organic and pure the way my heart felt them without editing. The pieces were hot with emotional rawness and sometimes watery with too many tears. The widows and widowers were hungry for the honesty they represented in a world that tried to wipe up the mess of our lives with a mop and tell us to “move on” regardless of how we actually felt. The world wasn’t comfortable with our unending tears and strong emotions.
We hungered for more than the trite. Most of the grief books and platitudes offered, though well intentioned, were more harmful than helpful. We longed for something that was truthful, honest, real and not sanitized to make the “normal” readers comfortable. These types of poems can come across as forcing other readers to go through our therapeutic process with us and most would rather catch us on the other side of our therapy.
They Call it Craft-I Call it Feng Shui
In screenplay writing they teach that showing a woman with one tear falling down her cheek will move an audience more than showing her bawling her eyes out over the pain she is feeling. This is what I think the MFA world is also trying to do. The theory is that you don’t want to hit the audience over the head with emotions, rawness and grit. You want to deftly lead them to it and let them use their own imagination to see the horror, pain or tragedy. This is the crafting part of poetry.
Healing is one of the great powers of poetry. However, if we want a wider audience beyond those who “feel our pain,” we need to realize that a little bit of heat, pain, trauma goes a long way, like pepper in a dish. Use hot emotions like anger, pain and loss gingerly if you want the “normal” world to feel them. They don’t need the full on frontal assault of heavy emotions.
Another way to think about it is that people prefer movies, poetry, life to be balanced. Is your poetry too much of one element? Balancing it out might make it stronger.
Writing for “Normal” People
Three of my poems have recently won first place in contests. Two of them dealt with non-emotional themes. Even the one about the death of my sister was lightly written with a punch at the end. It seems the poems that are written about heavier subjects are not winning as often as those that are less emotional. Perhaps it’s because everyone who has ever lost anyone, or anything, writes a highly emotional poem and the judges and journals get tired of these. Most “normal” people are not comfortable with raw emotion and sentimentality, which is why the MFA world has tried to scrub poetry of much of its emotion and syrupy sentiment. Too much of anything is not a good thing and that includes emotion, tears and sanitization.
Now, we come back to the audience we are writing for. Your friends, your online support group, your fans may love your emotional and vulnerable poems. They may admire your courage and honesty, but the poetry editors and judges find it tedious. They prefer a lot of work on craft-subtlety, sustained metaphors, interesting verb and noun choices, and sculpting. Additionally, the unknown audience of desired poetry book buyers might want to be entertained, transported, or enlightened more than they like being slapped with the emotions of our lives.
It's All About Balance
Too much of anything can leave a room or a poem feeling out of kilter, off balance. Maybe we should apply the five elements of Feng Shui to our writing and make sure that we are editing out the parts that are overdone so the reader can see the beauty of our work. That craft is what the “poetry powers” seem to reward, rather than honesty and emotional rawness.
Applying Feng Shui to our writing and editing could bring about a nice balance that makes our poems more appealing to everyone, including those pesky editors!
What you think? How do you write about emotional topics like love, death, loss, rape, birth, physical abuse, sexual abuse?
Now, can anyone tell me what the five elements are in Feng Shui?
Then, look at the picture at the top of this article and name each item that represents all of those elements?
Some of them could be a little tricky, but they are all there.
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