https://msarki.tumblr.com/post/159561163268/the-therapy-of-poetry-by-molly-harrowerOne of the prerequisites of true poetry, as opposed to the helpful expression of the “poet’s” feelings, is that it transcends the immediate circumstances of its creation, and becomes universal in its application. It is clear the mature poet has a duel task; he can utilize the built-in mechanism that he possesses for restoring his own inner balance, but also, he must depersonalize this highly charged experience so that others may endow it with their own specific meanings.
Molly Harrower was an American clinical psychologist. During the Second World War she created a large-scale multiple choice Rorschach test. She was one of the first clinical psychologists to open a private practice. Harrower, herself a poet, developed a therapy based on writing poetry. This review of her therapeutical poetic concepts begins before my reading ends. And it starts with the first page of her book, as I predict she will impel me to put my pen to paper as I read.
During a period in 2016 of thirty days or so, after a self-induced absence, I wrote several poems. My guess is the original poems numbered just under thirty. I revised each individual poem while writing new ones. When I had three poems worthy of perusal by outside eyes I mailed my accustomed three-pack envelope to [a:Gordon Lish|232097|Gordon Lish|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1267719924p2/232097.jpg] who has been my poetry editor since 1997. I sent him a total of three envelopes before I received one back with a note that he wasn’t doing well and could no longer be active. I had known this day would come, was ready for it actually, but it probably came as more of a surprise due to my own slowing down in writing poetry. It had become a challenge for me to continue working on poems when I no longer had the drive to create them. Now that I was at least trying to compose a few more I realized I would be going along on my own from here on out. A move others had encouraged me to do for some time, but an ending I had rejected because of our great working relationship. Gordon always made me a better poet. He would occasionally request a different word from me to beat the one I had entered in an already good poem. With Gordon as my teacher I was always willing to better myself. But now it would be a test for me to see if I could self-edit in the manner and expertise the great Lish had, I hoped, taught me. So I put these new poems back in a drawer and let them rest. A few months later I went back to revise them and discarded probably half. Another session a few weeks later encouraged the dismissal of a few more with the result being eleven poems decidedly worthy of continued revision. I returned them to rest again in that same holding place.
Before I began reading The Therapy of Poetry
I took another look at the remaining eleven poems and this time two more went down the tubes and into the trash. None of my remaining poems are recollections of anything I might have started from. No idea now where they came from, or even what they are about. After initially putting a poem down on paper I operate on pure feeling and creative license. Of course, all my poems certainly began with something in mind. But it has been at least a year since I first put them down on paper, all having gone through several revisions now, and what detritus remains are simply artifacts. Each poem now must transcend my initial selfishness, my internal vomiting onto the page. To further exist, each poem must demand to have a life of its own and prove itself worthy. Sort of what history provides for us regarding all things saved and deemed important in their time. Few words live more than a hundred years. Most of what we write is unremarkable.
Harrower’s first chapter held promise for what was to come, what it might teach me or help me to see more clearly. But her adolescent examples regarding poetry I found disappointing. My growing eagerness to get past her amateur and undeveloped work felt urgent, almost dire, to any need I had for finishing the reading of her book. She was losing me fast. And it did not get any better the further I read. Countless examples of her unaccomplished poetry, used as a way of teaching how a person might grow and evolve, was found lacking. Instruction, and quotes by others who she valued as mentors, adhered her to the disastrous idea to save all that one has written in the hope it might be used later in composing another work of art. Harrower claimed that she at times later discovered what had been put down on paper was actually better and more useful than previously determined, and would have been a mistake to be destroyed or flung into the waste bin. Bad advice for anyone attempting to make great art. There is an endless reservoir of both good and bad inside us just waiting to come out. It is hard work, this digging and opening, but worth it.
One of the earliest lessons I learned when I attended my first [a:Gordon Lish|232097|Gordon Lish|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1267719924p2/232097.jpg] Fiction-Writing class was to throw everything away I had written prior to sitting in that classroom chair. It disturbed me to think of doing that, but I did as the teacher instructed me to do. I was already forty years old and had been writing for over twenty years. When I returned home, all of what I had saved was destroyed because I trusted in the teacher. And he was right. I began anew. I was reborn. And now it is easier to throw a work away that does not measure up to something I can use. Yes, occasionally I will work on a piece for quite a long time before ripping it in quarters and tossing it into the wastebasket. But it is freeing, and I have learned to let these exercises go. Even poems that Gordon has approved for publication get tossed away from time to time. They are simply no longer what I want to be remembered for. And no amount of pride or justification will allow them to remain collected. As I neared the end of my perusal of The Therapy of Poetry
it became clear that Molly Harrower could have used a more tyrannical editor. I have yet to find a poem she wrote worth keeping. And yet, as I reexamine my own remaining nine again after finishing this dreadful Harrower book, I realize it was her way to promote her delusional thinking that her own poetry has merit. That her poetry achieves what she deems “universal” status and provides meaning for others reading it. But there was nothing there. Not even therapy. Her Polish SoupThe greens made
pungent. A balm
gone pretty. Her
possessed entirely of
excess, but never
reduced by a more
even one discovered
fired in enamel. A
world in which each
prosperous hole is cause
for spilling over.