The Poetry Hangover

Or, in other words, that feeling of reading a poem/collection of poems that are so beautiful and inspiring that you feel you can’t read or write any more, ever.

I’m the emotional sort of person to cry at everything from sad commercials to happy endings in movies, so I’m never entirely surprised when I’m affected by writing enough to get one of these Poetry Hangovers, but it’s still an inconvenience, considering being a creative writing major and the need to be inspired to complete writing assignments.

The inability to write and read that I get with this is because my head feels too full of other words.  It’s like listening to a song through headphones while trying to compose new music; It’s near impossible.  The Hangover continues:

The second stage of the Poetry Hangover is the crushing doubt that accompanies putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), as if I have overdosed on brilliance and have uninspired myself in the process. This is similar to the regular crushing doubt that accompanies writing – I will never be able to publish this; This as not as good as everyone else’s; I am terrible at writing in iambic pentameter and therefore should never write again lest Shakespeare himself will return from the dead to haunt my notebooks – but multiplied by a factor of ten.

Stage three is denial, both that I can’t spend my entire life reading, rereading, and thinking about the poems I’m currently obsessed with, and that I have other things to do in general (e.g. class, sleep, eating).  Thankfully this stage tends to be shortened by the stress of schoolwork piling up as well as forcing myself to read other works, bringing stage four quicker:

The fourth and final stage is the grim determination to write something that will affect someone in the way I’ve been affected.

Then, I find a new poem to obsess about. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because after a (long, grueling) while I’m back to writing regularly and am inspired as usual. Not to mention that after the Hangover has dissipated is where I tend to do my best writing, using the elements of the poems that gripped me and attempting to emulate them in my poems. This happened recently with me, after reading The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, and I’m only just feeling capable of writing again.

Does anyone else find they experience the Poetry Hangover? If so, what are your ways to moving through the stages quicker (or do you find you have different stages entirely)?

2 Replies to “The Poetry Hangover”

  1. Oh man, the Poetry Hangover. The worst part about this is that you can’t even cure it with greasy disgusting brunch. I’m really glad you included the final stage of the hangover, as I think it’s really important for us all to see a way out of the cycle of reading and being daunted and doubting yourself.

    I experienced a kind of poetry hangover today after reading Dura, being confused about it, and then in class discussion realizing its genius. As we were parsing our individual sections, I realized the links and elements in the poem that allow for momentary grounding, and I became more and more amazed at Kim’s overarching vision. I’m constantly amazed by the poems we’re reading in class (and by everyone’s workshop poems), which is good up until I get so amazed that I can’t even fathom trying to do something like it. It’s like after you hear an amazing song that you have to listen to over and over, and you go to pick up your guitar and you just can’t.

    I think you’re right about the stages, too, but for me I kind of skip the denial (maybe I’ve already accepted the fact that I can never read everything I think I need to), and meditate on the crushing doubt for a little while. I’m always wondering things like “who the hell am I to write when X (Yeats, Frost, Kim, Homer, anyone I hear at a reading, etc) could probably do it better.” It takes a bit to get that confidence back after being blown away by someone’s writing, but I think rereading and analyzing said writing helps to mitigate the doubt, because if you understand something it’s more likely that you can do it.

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