Painful Frustration in Poetry

X-Acto Knife

Not all moments of frustration in poetry create pleasure. Sometimes, they bring pleasure and pain together in a compelling moment of poignance. Take, for example, the start of “Purple Bathing Suit” from Louise Glück’s collection Meadowlands:

I like watching you garden
with your back to me in your purple bathing suit:
your back is my favorite part of you,
the part furthest away from your mouth.

You might give some thought to that mouth.
Also to the way you weed …

This is the same kind of stroke as in “Snow” from Ararat, where she says of being a young girl on her father’s shoulders:

My father liked
to stand like this, to hold me
so he couldn’t see me.

The incisive mind invades the expectation of tenderness, cuts it off and makes it sinister — the same experience as feeling shocked by cruelty in a moment of vulnerability, the same thing — in essence — as heartbreak itself.

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The Pleasures of Frustration in Poetry

The Big YinI had the pleasure of seeing Billy Connolly perform stand-up live in Los Angeles last night. Throughout the show, I kept noticing how he would continually branch from anecdote to anecdote, snaring our attention with unresolved themes, then finally resolving them (for the most part) to hilarious effect. More and more it occurs to me that in many ways poetry and comedy are very similar. Frustration itself has been a theme in poetry, especially love poetry, since Petrarch (and no doubt before). Yet poetry itself, by its very nature, is pleasurably frustrating in much the same manner as comedy.
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