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“I have looked at it so long / I think it is a part of my heart”

December 27, 2011

(Post title a quotation from ‘Mirror’ by Sylvia Plath)

Among the many wonderful things I received for Christmas this year (pretty sure I still have the food baby) was an anthology — Modern Irish Poetry, ed. Patrick Crotty. This came from two of my parents’ closest friends, who have encouraged my reading since time immemorial. Just inside the book I found a pasted insert bearing a quotation from P.B. Shelley:

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

I’m sure many of you have heard / read this before. It rang a bell to me, however distantly. But that one little sentence — intended as a defence of the abstract ‘poetry’ — haunted me as I lay awake til seven a.m. (standard practice).

Why is the poem a mirror? I for one am sick of always looking into the poem and being confronted with me. Obviously that’s something I should take up with myself. I write the poem, and I am my own most common subject. I’m beginning to understand the advice I had from Meaghan Delahunt as an undergrad: get out of your head and come to your senses. In my case it’s more that I need to stop looking in the mirror and start looking out of the window.

This is about balance, of course. My crazy is an inexhaustible source of words, and I doubt I’ll be divorcing the confessional any time soon. But I can’t help feeling like I’m internalising too much. I have a lot of feelings and that’s good fuel, but there’s a whole world out there and maybe it’s time I sent my poems out into it.

In the Meadowlands poem ‘Rainy Morning’, Louise Glück says:

You don’t love the world. / If you loved the world you’d have / images in your poems.

I want to love the world you guys. So what do you think? Is the poem Shelley’s mirror is it Heaney’s stained-glass window?

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