Monday, February 13, 2012

Kevin Prufer Writes About Sentimentality and Complexity

Four Way Books poet, Kevin Prufer writes about sentimentality, complexity and more and how these concepts reveal themselves in writing.

"So what makes the scene sentimental? In my short essay, I argued that sentimentality often involved reducing an emotionally complex situation into an emotionally simple one. Given the full sentimental treatment, my little story will ask us to respond with nothing but simple outrage and sadness. But it will never ask us to examine those feelings, to look closely at the social forces that would refuse a sick child medical treatment and make it impossible for a single mother to care for her family. Neither will the sentimental story allow us to understand the complexity of Faith’s feelings for her absent husband, her mixture of love and anger and loss and frustration and rage. Instead of offering a surplus of inappropriate emotion, it seems to me that sentimental literature often reduces strong emotion to a single channel.... And it was here that it occurred to me—not for the first time!—that the way we teach poetry in our schools—the way I was taught poetry in high school!—is deeply fucked up. I remember learning that a poem was like a puzzle. If I could just sort out what each element in the poem symbolized—the window, the fly, the keepsakes, the light—then I could put them together and voila! solve the poem! Or, put another way, I’d been taught to think of poetry as a kind of coded language, a medium in which writers resisted communicating with readers. Poetry, I’d learned, is a kind of really hard crossword puzzle, but with a meaning at the end."

To read more of the blog post, click here. To read Prufer's original essay on sentimentality, click here. To look at Prufer's poetry books, visit Four Way Books online.