The Negative in the Positive

Why is it that one would find it necessary to compose poetry? It’s just prose laid out in lines and made to rhyme (in a very forced way, one could add). It’s an art form that won’t stand up to the modern age of loud music, rap, and the shot glass version of a news story that is so popular today. Poetry will go the way of classical music, only being enjoyable to a few people who have devoted their lives to understanding it (and who are probably out of touch with everyday people anyway). While I can’t provide a rebuttal to all of these solutions (I’ll save some of them for a later date), I can try to give poetry’s use, and necessity, in my own life.

Poetry is for me a way to formulate problems. Notice I have mentioned nothing about solutions. Solutions are not a necessary part of a poem; if a poem decides to simply pose a problem without a solution, it is not then discarded. Poetry is a way for me to take the problems that arise in life, especially the ones that seem unresolvable and decide to languish in my brain for hours on end, and force them into an organization. If my life presents me with a problem that I have found unresolvable, or that disturbs me to my core, I can take that problem and enclose it in this progression of verse.

To put it simply, I can take this conundrum and say to it, “I know that you have drilled and pounded my brain to mush, and I know you don’t have an answer right now. So I’m going to give you an end by forcing you to get yourself organized (however loosely), and I’m going to resolve you by putting a period at the end of you (in most cases).”

Thus I am left with my problem in capsule-form, something that I can swallow. The truth is that, as humans, we have more problems than we will ever have solutions for. If I were to let these problems fester without ever trying to put them to bed, I would have strung myself up by a wire by now. But can’t this outlook on life make one seem rather “negative”? How do I get out of total pessimism after I’ve admitted that I’m drowning in problems?

One can find in poetry a different reaction to “positive” and “negative” poems, and I would say that they’re not as different in content as some would argue. If one views poetry in the way I’ve presented, then one finds that “negative” poetry (See Charles Bukowski’s Hell is a lonely place) is poetry that merely presents the problem as it stands, but admits that the solution to this problem is not readily at hand. “Positive” poetry (See John Donne’s Holy Sonnet X) is poetry that presents the problem AND solution, but presents them as concomitant in some sense.

So we see that while the results may be different, something “positive” will always include something “negative,” if only inasmuch as it is a response to this negativeness.

Positivity does not deny that the negative exists. It merely presents a response to the fact of the negative. The true positive cannot exist without a truly manifest negative.

I seem to have gone the long way round to get to this, but this is the best defense I can give of my art form and the necessity of its existence, at least in my own life. So give yourself a little breathing room and don’t let those problems get you down.

Through Christ,
Ben