Out of the shadows falls a brave wanting soul.
No subject is too taboo that it can’t be injected into a poem. I often laugh when reading through magazine submission rules that state no poems about dead pets, anti-American, anti-Christian, or humorous verse. The challenge then is to find a magazine that will accept your subject matter on spaceships, diarrhea, and corpses. This is 2012 and if you look hard enough, you will find a market for everything.
I consider the entirety of my life and the life of everyone I know to be game for my poetry. The two guys who laughed at me for giving a homeless man a dollar are immortalized in their golf shirts forever. The idiocy of Americans believing the war on terrorism early in the Iraq War was fodder as was the suggestion that Washington was drunk the whole time. I saw a girl on television cutting herself up with razors and decided a poem was born. Sometimes, ugly wins.
What this observation underscores is that you need a fair amount of confidence to be a writer. You have to continually make a stab in the direction you think people are willing to go. I remember a girl in my college poetry class who was adamant that menstruation was not a suitable topic for a poem. Never mind that the poem in question was published and by Sharon Olds, no less. Critics be damned! You too can write a poem about picking your nose and wiping it on the wall. If it’s good, someone will pick it up.
So what do traditional poets write about? I’m not sure but it must be farms, the sea, and wildflowers. The idea is to eschew sentimentality, shock, and despair. Paint life as a beautiful canvas free of child molesters. The Christian Science Monitor, in its Poet’s Market 2009 ad, actually calls this type of poetry “a respite from daily news and from the bleakness that appears in so much contemporary verse.” So, I won’t be sending them my poem about suicide. They even list illness as out of the question. What? Now, people can’t write about surviving cancer? How is that a downer?
My advice to aspiring poets is to choose subjects that slap the reader. Life is brutal and unforgiving. It’s also really short and there is no guarantee that writing about the life of barn swallows will earn you any more success than penning a piece about sister wives. The point here is to write what you do best and if it’s the dark stuff, you have to embrace destiny. As for me, I’m firmly on the dark side writing about prostitutes, mental illness, and kissing the toilet seat.