Annette Simmons, in her excellent book about writing memoirs, WHOEVER TELLS THE BEST STORY WINS, advises, “…we must learn to conjure up genuine emotions and relive the story in our imagination in a way that feels significant to us first so our story feels personally significant to others.”
As with storytellers, so it is with poets. One of the best ways for a poet to connect with her audience is to tell a story in a way that feels immediate and real, that opens up her head and her heart and shows the others what it feels like to be in the middle of some situation.
Chances are her audience will be able to understand the feelings even if they have not been in the same situation.
It’s the standard thing to do that for things like lovelorn and heartbreak poems. It’s sort of a cliché, actually.
However, this way of sharing your emotions does not have to be limited to stories of heartbreak and loss. You can expand it to encompass your other life-things…like your job, for instance. You, too, can write Country-Western songs (Yee-hah!)
Here’s a poem I wrote about what it’s like to be in the process of evicting someone. It comes out of having been a residential property manager for over 20 years.
Aw, good grief!
Here we are, co-opted into
A hoary old melodrama of the vaudeville kind.
I get to be the villain –
Just your average, run-of-the-mill,
Greedy, grabby landlady.
Got the standard black, pointy witch hat
PLUS dominatrix leather.
I can pace around like a predatory beast,
Snarling large and cracking this really cool bullwhip.
And you…you get to be the downtrodden slob,
Shivering in your tattered, well-worn rags,
Surrounded by your sniveling, tear-dripping wife
And all the wailing waifs of your life –
All of the poster children for the latest fight-hunger campaign.
It’s winter, right?
Sleet, snow, hail….
And here we are at center stage:
The Victim (that’s you), hunkered and huddled,
Pleading for mercy from
The stone-cold, nasty bitch with the vault of squashed buffalo nickels.
Next we enact the crucial moment,
When I get to twirl my waxed false mustache and declaim,
“You MUST pay the rent!”
You, of course, shake and shiver and you wring your hands as
You quiver out (in tremolo voice): “I CAN’T pay the rent!”
Can we NOT go there?
This does not have to be a “Perils of Pauline” re-run.
It’s just us – you and me,
People with a problem needing a graceful resolve.
Tell ya what:
Let’s go for the grace….
How ’bout we dump these dumb costumes
And toss out that stupid script?
Come on, let’s sit.
What are we gonna do next?
We know that.
HOW shall we dance?
by Netta Kanoho
TARGET: YOUR FEELINGS
How do you conjure emotions in poetry and story-telling? It comes, I think, from really being able to name your feelings. If you can’t pinpoint what you are feeling, if you don’t know whether you’re feeling sad or mad or just hungry and irritable, then you’ll just sit there telling yourself, “Oh, wow. This feels bad.”
That doesn’t make a story. It doesn’t breathe life into the facts. With no words for the feelings you’re feeling, there is no way to share and communicate the things. So you need to learn how to talk about how you feel so you can connect and talk about things that everybody else can also feel.
That’s the cool thing about this. If you can pinpoint, understand and know your own feelings, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll get better at understanding and knowing the feelings other people feel.
It can get to be a bit of a project, this feeling thing. They’re all sort of tangled up in your head and…well, they’re messy! (I think they breed and make all kinds of hybrids as well. You can feel sad-but-happy, angry-and-humiliated, righteous-yet -scared and so on.)
You can, of course, go pay a professional friend who will help you get in touch with all that stuff. If they’ve been trained right and are exceptionally good at what they do, your therapist or psychologist or whatever will be able to guide you through the morass in your head and maybe help you find out WHY you are such a dingleberry. You can spend your hours going over every past cause and every present effect ad nauseum.
That, it seems to me, is a bit of a side-track that only gets you tangled up in the fascination of your own back-story. Unless you are not able to function as a semi-rational adult in this crazy-making world and your life is really a sinkhole getting deeper, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to go that route. You’re just wanting to learn how to tell a good story here.
I’ve figured out that the best way to find a good story to tell is to go live one and then brag about it. It’s also great to talk with other people who are making their own as well. You can’t do that when you’re focused on figuring out what went wrong and why such-and-so happened, tracking and preserving the timelines of your suffering.
The best way to tell a good story is to write out the ones you know and share them with other people to see if something similar happened to them. If you do that, you’ll notice that some stories, the ones with the universal themes of sadness and suffering, joy and celebration, and life and death resonate with other people. You’ll be able to tell because they will pull out one of their own stories to share with you.
NAMING THE FEELINGS
To get good at conjuring emotions, it is a matter, really, of pinpointing what to call all the feelings you are feeling in your body, in your heart, and in your head. You do that by practicing naming the feelings that come up.
A good tool for this is an ordinary elementary school composition book. (I always use the wide-ruled ones because it makes me feel like I’m back at my old grade-school desk.) You need a writing implement…an ordinary throw-away pen works best for me, but you can get as fancy as you want.
The task, whenever you work up a big old tangle of all that good emotional stuff inside you, is to grab the composition book and start writing. No editing allowed. Just write, write, write. You have to do it for at least three pages. More is fine if you haven’t run out of steam yet.
Be obscene if you like. Be scathing and rabid and all the other stuff you’ve been holding back. Let it all out.
Then, put it away. That’s right. DON’T stew on it. Go on with your day and get through it the best way you can. When you’ve got an easeful bit of time, maybe in the late night hours or in the early morning when nobody else is awake, pull out that book and look it over.
I mean, REALLY look at what you vomited out all over the page. If you have to indulge in the emotions again, that’s fine, but in the middle of all that, TAKE NOTES. When you say this, what is it you are feeling? Anger? No, it’s Rage. Okay. This one, what’s that? Bitterness, maybe. What’s that one? Jealousy, perhaps. And so on.
You’ll start to see, after a while, that certain feelings are packed in the words you are using. Look at the words. What are they? Make the connections and the links between those words and the feelings they bring up.
Do this exercise over and over again until you’ve unpacked all the feelings that are working in you as your story unfolds. You’ll develop a feeling vocabulary that works for you, one that will build connections between you and your audience.
Why does this work? Because all those building-block feelings you are feeling are the same feelings other people are feeling as well. Humans are constructed alike. The feeling-mechanisms in our bodies are pretty much standard issue and they all work the same way.
The one thing you have to get over when you do this exercise is making judgments about the feelings you are feeling.
For your purposes when building this vocabulary lexicon, there are no good or bad feelings. They are just there. Noting down that the feelings are there and naming them is your only job in this. (You don’t get to beat yourself up for feeling them. THAT is not what this is about.)
Once you’ve built up a vocabulary, it’ll be easier to play with it when you construct your poems or your stories for public consumption.
Has this been helpful to you? Please let me know….leave a comment and we can talk story….
Picture credit: The Crescent Awaits by Mark Turnauckas via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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22 thoughts on “CONJURING FEELINGS”
Wow I have never tried poetry telling and expressing my feelings through poetry, but it is something I am very interested in as I feel that my creativity is being trapped due to my lack of self confidence and self esteem.
I did start to write poetry before, but my past experiences are stopping me from doing so
Hey Jazzy…Thanks for the visit. Very often what stops you from doing poetry is trying to get it perfect the very first time.
That rarely happens. It’s a lot better if you just throw everything onto a page — good or bad, pretty or ugly, or apathetic and boring as all get-out.
Once that is done, you’ll have a bunch of building blocks that you can turn into a something. Keep that over-active Inner Critic locked in the closet. Don’t let him (or her) out until you’ve got your thing pretty much done.
THEN you can let the Critic out…but don’t let him/her take over. This is YOUR poem…you Da Boss. Stay that way!
Good luck to you….come visit again!
I have written poems, stories and plays..just as a hobby, but I know exactly what you have tried to convey here. It is magical that we can actually project true emotions through artworks and that is the true attribute of a creative person.
If one can imagine and feel the story he wants to paint in people’s mind..he becomes a real artist. Very interesting post!
Thanks for visiting. I appreciate your comment.
I do want to point out as well that being able to understand your own self where you are standing and knowing how to effectively communicate that clearly (without getting other people’s backs up or boring them to tears) can have a beneficial side-effect in everyday life.
With this skillful means you become able to influence other people to act in ways that help you move along your own projects.
And that’s a very good thing.
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Thank you for this enjoyable post. I like what you wrote about being in touch with one’s feelings. That way, when you share your story, you get to connect with your readers on a much deeper level.
It’s true that writing down one’s feelings helps a great deal. I do that a lot especially with my prayers.
Again, thank you for sharing your gift of writing.
Thank you for your visit and your comments. Please do come again.
I must confess that your post was well articulated and well defined. I have been able to learn some tips on how to conjure emotions in poetry and story-telling from your article and also how to breathe life into the facts contained in the poetry and story to give the reader or listener a strong feel about it and to make them have the sense of reality in it.
Thanks so much for this wonderful post, I hope to read more from you subsequently.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Dapoach. I do appreciate it.
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This is so pleasing and emotional post.
I have always tried to write about my feelings. This is really a relief for me reading through this poem. This has been something I have always had an interest in to express my feelings and improves the level of my creativity.
It is really magical to me to voice out one true emotion via poetry.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Kehinde.
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Thanks for writing this article on conjuring feelings, it so informative and as well interesting especially the poem “EVICTION THOUGHTS”you write in the article.
I like every part of it and I find this article helpful in how we can put in our emotional into stories and poems. This is an art I will like to try out and see how it goes and later add it to my hobbies
Thanks for the visit, ajibola40. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
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Good article. I feel that most poems on the subject of love nowadays tend to descend or rely more on common cliché.
The best way to write a good poem in my opinion is definitely to write out your genuine feelings. If not it conveys a sense of being fake.
Nice poem though.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Divine 13.
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I really love this post and I also grab the message it conveys.
Most of poems and stories I have written came from what I feel within me. Most meaningful poems we are reading over the years by great icons in poetry are obviously written from their feelings and inner expressions.
It feels good to tap into one’s feeling to write a story, that’s a pure creativity.
I enjoyed your post today.
Thanks for the visit, Achievers. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
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I would like to practice naming feelings as you do. Thank you very much for this suggestion.
Just recently I stumbled upon one of my old ordinary elementary school composition book. I was visiting my parents and happened to go into the attic. It did bring back a bunch of good old memories.
Abel, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I do appreciate it.
It’s funny how finding an old bit of your own writing — even if it’s a class assignment or something — can trigger memories. It’s like a time machine that way.
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Thanks for this post! I really enjoyed it!! A couple of ideas crossed my mind when I was reading it. First, you need to be real to pass up a feeling through text (or image, or any form of art). You can’t fake it, or it will sound shallow or not real. It’s like you’ve said, you must know it well before you’re able to describe it, and even harder, describe it in a creative, colorful way people can relate with.
Next about paying the rent in your really nicely written poem, I really can’t imagine how many times you had to go through that situation 😀 and you’ve made it so well, that people *will* feel empathy for you!! Yes, lardlords/landladies are always seen as the villains (same as bosses, business owners, etc.), always wanting to squeeze the money out of poor, innocent people… Can’t people see that it’s their job, how they get food in their tables? If they don’t receive the rent, it’s no paycheck at the end of the month??? I wonder if those people also like to work for free, or are very considerate in making free favours for others!! 😀
As for feelings construction, kids now have a nice way to learn about how to recognize and verbalise about feelings that with cute color monsters 😀 (google “color monsters” you can’t miss them). Happy, sad, frightened, calm, loving, angered… I bet they will have a better way in general to describe how they feel than their parents 🙂
Sorry for the long comment!!
Keep up the good work with your blog,
Sofia, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. (Don’t apologize for long comments. I think they’re the best!)
Your comments about the poem were dead-on. The villain-casting is, I think, something most people who are responsible for enforcing heavy-duty rules have to face. It does cause a lot of them to burn out, I think. Some people grow thick skins or make their hearts hard in response to the feeling that they are the “bad guy.”
It’s the most challenging thing about those kinds of jobs and I did want to help present that as well. I’m glad to know I succeeded.
Thank you, too, for the information about the feeling monsters. I agree that it will be a big help for the youngsters to recognize and communicate their feelings better.
Thanks for the encouragement. I do appreciate it.
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I am searching for a way for my son to get his head out of his PS4. After reading your post I think I have found it. I am going to ask him to start to create simple poems that express his feelings as you have done.
I think that it has several benefits. It will certainly up his vocabulary, his creative thinking, structuring, sensitization, empathy and ability to communicate.
I am going to make this a weekly fun activity for the whole family to join in. Thanks for the super idea.
What a marvelous idea, only1hugh! Story- and poetry-making as a communal project is absolutely wonderful.
One of the reason I liked being a part of a poetry group, Maui Live Poets, which (before the pandemic) met once a month at the public library, was that we would all gather ’round to listen to each other’s latest (or most “special”) bits and encourage each other to go do more.
It added a whole other dimension to the whole endeavor.
One of the problems with being a solo writer is the isolation that can happen, where you stew in your own juices until you cook all the good stuff out and are left with yuck bits of ick and really mushy veggies. After a while you get to feeling you’ve said it all and you dry up. All the great soup boils away.
The biggest bennie of having an audience is the motivation they give you to keep on stirring the soup and adding stuff to it. And then you get to feed the soup to them. And if they slurp it all up with gob-smacking joy, it is a wonderment indeed!
One of our major customs as an informal group of wannabe bards was the one about NOT criticizing each other’s work — just enjoying them and appreciating, respecting, and encouraging the continuing effort a poet makes every time just to show up, stand there, and read their thing.
We were NOT a panel of judges or writing teachers checking spelling, onomatopoeia or analogy construction or whatever. We were not trying to be “professional” or “professorial.” We were just trying to catch some cheap thrills.
The meetings worked beautifully for that.
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