Emotions, in themselves, are not subject matter. Being in love, or sad, or lonely, or feeling good because it is spring, are common experiences. Poems that merely say these things, state these emotions directly, are unlikely to be very interesting. We may respect such statements, but we can’t be moved by them. The circumstances of the emotion, the scene or events out of which it comes, however, are the subject matter. Don’t tell the emotion. Tell the causes of it, the circumstances. Presented vividly, they will not only convince us of its truth but will also make us dramatically feel it.
The key is presenting; not to tell about, but to show. Put the spring day or the girl or the father into the poem. Put the mountain into the poem so that, in the absence of the mountain, the poem can take the place of the mountain.
The rivers of crimson run down my arm,
These ribbons of vitality untie themselves and float to the floor, discarded.
The dead put on wings of moss. The cloudy wind and the clear wind are two pheasants that fly through towers and the day is a wounded young boy.
But do not light your pure nakedness like a black cactus open in the rushes.
Enoughby Denis Johnson The terminal flopped out around us like a dirty hankie, surrounded by the future population of death row in their disguises--high school truant, bewildered Korean refugee-- we complained that bus 18 will never arrive, when it arrives complain what an injury is this bus again today, venerable and destined to stall. When it stalls at 16th and McDowell most of us get out to eat ourselves alive in a 24-hour diner that promises not to carry us beyond this angry dream of grease and the cries of spoons, that swears our homes are invisible and we never lived in them, that a bus hasn't passed here in years. Sometime the closest I get to loving the others is hating all of us for drinking coffee in this stationary sadness where nobody's dull venereal joking breaks into words that say it for the last time, as if we held in the heavens of our arms not cherishable things, but only the strength it takes to leave home and then go back again.
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