The Unpublishable Poem (or is it?)

I have reams of poems that are rich in detail, haunting, full of promise and definitely worth sharing.

They remain, however, unpublishable.

See, the subject matter is one that involves another person. And there’s little doubt who I’m writing about. While the poems aren’t unflattering (well, not all of them), they are from my perspective, not theirs.

Not everyone tells the story the same way, right?

So as I wrestle with the thought that my best stuff may never see print (or never be compiled into a manuscript I can sell), I wrestle with this — should we avoid those topics that may never be shared publicly?

I say no. Instead, I think we need to crank up the productivity even more.

We’ve all been through stuff — divorce, bad relationships, broken friendships, irreparable bad blood, you name it.

That stuff, however, makes us push into areas we might not have gone otherwise. For example, a writer friend has recently divorced. She abandoned her novel for one instance and wrote a short story that involved her ex, a gun, and her innermost thought process.

It was the best thing she’d ever written. And she’s a damn good writer as it is.

That’s the kind of emotional outpouring that we as poets should be practicing more often, in my opinion. I can tap into the pain of the subject I’d written about, and use that to reach deeper feelings in the subjects that aren’t so, well, delicate.

So when I approach a topic now, I ask myself these questions:

  • How did the incident/memory/whatever make me feel?
  • No, really. What feelings am I not yet owing up to?
  • What would I express if I knew no one was listening or would judge me?
  • What pieces of the incident/memory/whatever best shows how I’m feeling?

As for those poems that can’t be published, I’m not ready to give up on that idea. One published alone wouldn’t be so bad, even a few peppered into a manuscript wouldn’t be as bad as an entire volume dedicated to that painful time in the lives of that other person and me.

Poets, how do you reconcile writing about an instance with another person?
Have you ever had someone confront you or push back on something you’ve published that involved them, even if it wasn’t recognizable to anyone else?

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