Poetics of Trauma

It might be a little late in the semester to be wondering about where to generate poetry from, but in a quick move to generate a few more points in the positive, I’ve been wondering about the transformation of trauma into poetry.

It is my guess that this stems from my recent experience at a Trump Rally.  While I was allotted more than double the magazine’s word limit, I still don’t feel all right.  The reader needn’t worry, though, this will not be a post about Trump.

Gregory Orr, a poet and critic who is largely influential to my understanding of poetry wrote Poetry as Survival this has interested me ever since, but has taken a backseat in composition in the frantic heat of trying to produce what I think a workshop will dig.

Maybe this is all wrong.

Orr accidentally killed his brother in a hunting accident when they were boys, and uses poetry as a stay against that misery.  If that’s not ripe grounds for poetry, I don’t know what is.  The problem is, where then do I get my material when the most vaguely traumatic thing I’ve beheld is a blonde lunatic moan about Mexico?

I am not unattuned to strife in this world, but I frankly hesitate to write “worldly” poetry or something that envisions another people’s trauma.  It’s not my story to write, and if I were to write it there’s a higher chance that I’d like to gamble on that I’d be writing it from the entity causing the trauma, since historically, my demographic has seen the least and dealt the most.

It’s going to bug me, and I’m willing to wager that there will be at least one poem in my portfolio that deals with traumatic affairs, but its level of success remains to be seen.

5 Replies to “Poetics of Trauma”

  1. William, I’m a little worried about your wording in this post. I do feel that trauma poetry is a valid mechanism for coping with trauma however I don’t think that trauma poetry should be necessarily sought out. Perhaps you could write a poem exploring your ideas about trauma and maybe how you feel society deals with trauma. I think writing about Trump as a trauma would be difficult as there would be a fine line between exploring a troubling experience and undermining the word trauma which describes a very personal experience that can sometimes betray ones boundaries of body and identity.

    1. I can’t say I don’t agree with you.

      I was hoping to suggest that there are elements in poetry that can redeem, transform, and transport— both toward and away trauma; difficult emotions to process; the struggles of expressing oneself as an individual in a world that is (at best) usually hostile.

      I agree that to stab at something as flaccid as the Trump campaign would fly in the face of anyone that has experienced any form of trauma. I read a lit-mag that was stationed in the library where I teach, and the theme for this issue was trauma. There were honest, heart-wrenching, deeply personal stories and essays and poetry that moved me literally.

      What probably should have been expounded upon in this post were the few writings where trauma is turned on its head. In some instances, the milk that spilled was lamented more than the child that was lost…it was a strange poem, I’ll give you…

      I think where your suggestion lands is the mark I wanted to hit with this post: I agree that if I tried to seek an affair to write about, it would do more damage than healing. How the collective “we” handles it, especially when “it” concerns an “other” is both fascinating and ripe.

      Thank you for pointing out the hidden volatility of my langauge, it’s a blunder I struggle to avoid

  2. Part of the thing with trauma poetry is that half the time, the poet doesn’t set out to write about their poetry. When something so big and traumatic happens, it stays in your brain and affects your writing, whether intentionally and obviously or by “accident” and without a clear connection. And usually, when someone sets out to write about their trauma, it is very clear that they are trying to work through it for themselves instead of for the poem.

    1. I agree Rachel. Sometimes I’m not even writing about an experience of my own and something scarily familiar happens in one line or even one phrase and I realize something is clearly bothering me. This happens really eerily through the landscapes I write in, both rural and suburban. Obviously poetry is a platform for self discovery and coping.
      I’m almost bothered by the term trauma poetry because it feels extremely like rubbernecking, however I feel that people who have experienced trauma can seek it out for consolation and solidarity.

  3. Will,
    I think that what’s important when allowing your poetry to speak about trauma is to let voices that are less privileged than your own speak above you. Your experience at a Trump rally might be scary for you, but imagine an LGBTQ+ individual or a black person entering that space. Their stories, if they choose to share them, should be the first things you look to and support before you write something about your experiences. And while we all experience trauma differently, and poetry for expression and working through these issues is 100% valid, I’d be reticent about publishing works about specific kinds of trauma.

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