Poetry and sentiment…ality

I have also been thinking about sentimentality. Another manuscript I was reading seemed to me to veer too frequently toward what I was calling in my own mind “sentimental.” What do I mean by that? Am I just a hard-boiled anti-emotion cold fish? Or am I on to something? I think what I mean is poetry that is trying too hard to control me and my emotions, or signaling too clearly what it wants me to feel, rather than allowing the power of the words/images/other fun stuff in poems to bring me to an emotion. Do you know what I mean? I’d rather have emotion suggested, or come at it crabwise through the poem, or have it surprise me, than have it dropped on me. I was reading a poem the other day that had me in tears before I had any idea it was going to do that. Now THAT’s what I want. Unfortunately, I can’t find the poem again, or I’d show it to you. Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” gets me every time.

4 thoughts on “Poetry and sentiment…ality

  1. That’s the trick, isn’t it? I hate the “manipulated” feeling when a poem drowns in its own sentimentalism- either through a cliched knee-jerk set-up (my dog just died, my mother just died, my wife just died) or crazy sentimental language. Then the other side of that coin is where there *is* no sentiment, just cold language or extremely distant imagery. It’s always the suggestion…. but you have to actually be willing to offer up something. The poem doesn’t have to be written in first person to do that either.


  2. There’s a forced intimacy in overly sentimental writing that’s not unlike a stranger sidling up to you and telling you all the sad and sordid details of their life. The well crafted work is more compelling because it allows you to experience the moment it memorializes.


  3. But it’s like the stranger’s secret is actually quite boring! She whispers how grateful she is for her family and how she loves her mother, but never tells you about that tremor in her hand and the scar down the left side of her face. Sentimentality makes uniform the exquisite distinctiveness of our uniform experiences.


  4. True. It’s more like being grabbed than sidled up to really and the stranger is weeping and yelling in your face, “I’m sad!” There is the expectation of a sympathetic response as if poetry functions as support group style therapy. Emotional high-jacking. I suspect that poetry is frequently introduced as a means to express feelings rather than as craft.


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