Holding on to his suffering

I once knew a guy, call him Lonnie, who wrote somewhere near 700 poems in a single summer about a woman who had broken his heart. All the poems were pretty bad – no form, no shading, no music, no feel for the nodes of experience, no poetry at all, really, just four gross and forty naked little knots of sadness and anger in hackneyed language, Their chief interest was a weird and “coachy” didactic streak, psychologically speaking. The writing didn’t do much for me, but the achievement, in toto, was vastly impressive, and it stuck with me.

And further, the poetry worked, just as well as if it had all been Philip Larkin-grade. It helped Lonnie realize that he felt this way because he liked to. That’s a pretty profound discovery, no matter how much innocent ink is spilled. We will give up anything but our suffering, as Gurdjieff, I think, famously said.

Lonnie may also have realized, through the course of his summer of free verse or in the cooling of the fall, that he was lucky to have loved at all. Hoard what experience as the days offer.


Anyway, he got past it, as I recall. He either changed his emotional patterns or learned to accept, manage, and love this part of himself. He went on to a normal life, with a Facebook page and everything.

One thing about this pointless anecdote that is clear to me now was lost on me then. I don’t think the poems would have served the same developmental and therapeutic purpose had he not performed them for me and handful of other aspirational poets at a series of fall semester poetry readings in the Alumni House, raising his voice through much of it, stomping around the room, and earning a campy reputation for himself in the process.

Journaling wasn’t the therapy. Performative ear-bending — the fifth avatar — was. It was all about watching those screams go home.

Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.