The Poetry of Trauma and Regret

Is it the natural tendency of poets to write about grief, damage, abuse and all kinds of decline?

Perhaps my view is deeply jaundiced. If it’s even partly true, maybe it is a symptom of our increasing focus on our identities, our mental health, and on climate change and environmental decay.

I find it hard to write poems whose progress ends on a note of hope. Of course, that is not something we can aim for. It has to occur naturally as the grain of the poem is shaved and shaped.

There is a view that we, as poets, are drawn to portray the worst things in our personal history. Is trauma a grisly attraction that draws the eyes and ears of publishers and readers? Or, given most poetry readers are writing poetry themselves, perhaps this is a doom-loop that we fly around, as a flock.

There’s no question that I am part of the flock. I have written about how my mother was forced to give away her first (illegitimate) child, and how coercive control affected female members of my family, and me.

And yet when I read ‘uplifting’ poems (forgive the churchy word) I see that it is often the poignant contrast between dark and light that makes them sing. There is (always) dark there too.

I remember what Jo Bell taught in a brilliant, thoughtful course during the pandemic called ‘Finding the Best in Challenging Times’. She suggested we might find celebratory ways of thinking about our bodies and spirits, to express longing and wonder, to affirm the good as well as recognising the bad. Her teaching generated some poems for me, which are about to be published in a pamphlet by Nine Pens.       

Of course, leavening all that pain with a little joy may be healthy for our psychology, as well as our writing.