Friday, March 25, 2011

Some thoughts on poetry and being emotionally transparent

Last night, I attended a poetry reading on campus by David Mason. Professor Mason teaches at Colorado College, and was appointed the Poet Laureate of Colorado in 2010. It was a very interesting and insightful reading. He's a really unassuming person who is able to dig deep into his personal experiences and come up with powerful emotions and strangely absurd, yet touching poem-stories. Here's one of the poems he read last night. It relates his experience of trying to help his late father, who had Alzheimer's, to use the toilet:

Fathers and Sons

by David Mason

Some things, they say,
one should not write about. I tried
to help my father comprehend
the toilet, how one needs
to undo one’s belt, to slide
one’s trousers down and sit,
but he stubbornly stood
and would not bend his knees.
I tried again
to bend him toward the seat,

and then I laughed
at the absurdity. Fathers and sons.
How he had wiped my bottom
half a century ago, and how
I would repay the favor
if he would only sit.

                              Don’t you
he gripped me, trembling, searching for my eyes.
Don’t you—but the word
was lost to him. Somewhere
a man of dignity would not be laughed at.
He could not see
it was the crazy dance
that made me laugh,
trying to make him sit
when he wanted to stand.

(Reproduced here from the online New Yorker, September 28, 2009)

As I was listening to the poem, it struck me how he was able, within the space of a few lines of verse, to render in intimate detail what must have been a very emotional event with a certain poetic sensitivity: A sensitivity which allows him to express a very personal life event, making it understandable to a third party (the reader) without glossing over its emotional significance.

After the reading, I asked him if it is possible that poetry enables the poet to process certain raw emotions, while also perhaps creating new ones at the same time. He agreed with my suggestion, and adds that poetry allows him to access and in a sense experience certain experiences of other people that he might otherwise not ever be able to experience.

He also remarks that he almost feels as if he is an emotionally transparent being who has no independent emotional life of his own: The emotions he feels and gives expression to comes from the things, events and persons that his poetic sensibility touches.

This really sets me thinking. I wonder if the yoga practice has something of a similar effect on the practitioner. Through the practice, we are able to stand back from immediate sensory experience, witness things and events around us, and in doing so, feel them with an acuity and sensitivity that was not there before. I wonder if this also makes us a little more emotionally transparent, in this way?

Just wondering, as usual.    


  1. beautiful poem. the story reminds me of the book "Tuesdays with Morrey". have you read it? it's about someone caring for his teacher/mentor through the years of a debilitating disease that was freezing up his body.

  2. Hello Arturo, no, I have not read Tuesdays with Morrie, although I have heard lots of wonderful things about it.