Cut to the Feeling: An Argument for Honesty

Write what you know is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. 

                                                                                    — Kazuo Ishiguro, Literary Hub

In the literary world, the common consensus is this: honesty is overrated.

We’ve moved past confessionalism, outgrown recklessness — know better than to bleed out on the page. And, most importantly, we’ve swallowed whole the advice any well-intentioned mentor has fed us at some point or another and never, ever write what we know. 

But why?

I could begin with the publishers, the competitions. Or how nuance never exists in the extremes. I could begin by telling you that things like love, sorrow, joy — these common experiences are just that: common.

But instead, I’ll begin by saying why not?

Sometimes, I’ll read a poem so thick in metaphor that I can’t help, but call the technique unproductive. Sometimes, the truth is best served plain like in Czesław Miłosz’s Gift [see below].

Miłosz’s frank sincerity is so refreshing. He writes the way one would write a diary entry. He doesn’t perform — there are no acrobatics, the poem doesn’t set itself on fire.

Miłosz is honest — his poem doesn’t care for the reader’s gaze.

Who’s to say we should write for others and not ourselves. In our writing, perhaps we should prioritize the self, our own emotions.

Or, as Carly Rae Jepsen would put it: cut to the feeling.

 

A Few of Our Favorite Things

If poets have taught me anything, it’s the importance of generosity — to be generous to others and ourselves.

Indeed, the difficult work of creating is a labor we all share in.

As such, I firmly believe that, as writers, we have an obligation to lift up one another — to help our peers navigate this wonderfully complex craft.

What I’m trying to say is this: you’re always welcome to ask me for opinions or critique or reading suggestions or absolutely anything!

Having said this, I thought I’d share some pieces that I hold near and dear and invite you all to post your favorites as well: poems that spark joy, lines from your own work — anything and everything!

Creative Non-Fiction

• Rebecca Solnit’s “Diary” 
• Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams
• Nikolina Kulidzan’s “A Kiss Deferred by Civil War” 

• Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s “Carly Rae Jepsen and the Kingdom of Desire” 

Poetry

• Christopher Soto’s “All the Dead Boys Look Like Me” 
• Tyree Daye’s “Neuse River” 
• Hieu Minh Nguyen’s “Apology, Sort Of” 
• Jane Wong’s “Twenty-Four” 
• Eloisa Amezcua’s “Long Distance” 
• Rosebud Ben-Oni’s “And All the Songs We Are Meant to Be” 
• Paige Lewis’ “I Love Those Who Can Walk Slow Over Glass and Still Hold” 
• Albert Abonado’s “The Greeting” 
• Leila Chatti’s “Reciting Poetry in the Psychiatric Ward” 
• Tiana Clark’s “Equilibrium” 

Performance Poems 

• Isla Anderson’s “The Forensics of Salt-Licking” 
• Phil Kaye’s “Repetition” 
• Rudy Francisco’s “My Honest Poem
• Athena Chu’s “Genesis Unedited” 

 Music 

• Yaeji’s “Feel it Out” 
• Mura Masa’s “What If I Go” 
• Camille Saint Saëns’ “Rondo Capriccioso” 

• Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut to the Feeling” 

 

On Sound, Bodily Honesty, and Paige Lewis

We are constantly immersed in and affected by sound and vibration. In truly quiet areas you can even hear the sound of air molecules vibrating inside your ear canals or the noise of the fluid in your ears themselves. The world we live in is full of energy acting on matter — it’s as basic as life itself.           

— Seth S. Horowitz, The Universal Sense

Sound, this?

Sound has many forms — a simulacrum for intimacy, an intrusion, the byproduct of any object in motion. Despite this limitlessness, it is best to discuss sound in its simplest iteration, as a unit of expression.

Indeed, sound tells us so much. Describing a projectile test conducted at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Horowitz writes, “The ultrasonic microphone picked up a submillisecond whissssshhhh of the projectile’s flight right before impact. But rather than a thump and some gentle pattering. . . we heard an explosion of sound at the impact followed by almost a full minute of a sandstorm.”

From these sounds, Horowitz is then able to piece together an illustration of impact and aftermath — how atmospheric presence affects the trajectory and nature of collision. By extension, this information can then be applied to everything from astronomy to defense research.

This is true in everyday contexts as well. The whistle and groan of a railway tells us that the train is imminent. A blistering alarm signals that, yet another student, has overcooked their ramen. The wince in a voice, discomfort. The turn of a lock, that someone is home.

Clearly, sound has a habit of snitching on others; however, I’m more interested in what sound tells us about ourselves.

Language, of course, is a manipulation of sound. It lies on a spectrum somewhere between silence and the scream. These two extremes are blank checks — expressions of a kind of profound, absolute desperation. But language, language is the comfortable medium where we’re able to approximate meaning.

Still, if we scrutinize language itself, we see that it’s more than surface level. For instance, rising intonation indicates a question. The emphasis of words can be a determinant of meaning. In this way, the fine mechanics of language can be considered an exercise in bodily honesty.

As Paige Lewis wrote, “So often our bodies betray us, just look / at our feet, how they point to what we desire” (The American Poetry Review). Similarly, what we speak is nearly as important as the way we speak it.

All of this is to say that sound affects our lives profoundly which, of course, is a truth we’re all aware of. Unsurprisingly, few will claim that sound isn’t important — its level of importance is the actual point of contention.

If you’ve ever been 10 and played the game Would You Rather, you’ve probably been asked this: “If you could only keep one of these two senses, would you see or hear.”

This question is really what it all comes down to.

When forced to choose between sight and sound, many will choose the former; however, as both Horowitz and I will argue, the correct choice is and always has been sound.