Trust in Poetry

The currency of trust

The conversation of poetry takes many forms. The following three types of conversation are metaphors that illustrate some of the trust dynamics at play in contemporary poetry. See if you recognize them — both the actual conversations, and the experience of the conversation, transposed onto the experience of reading certain poems.

The first is a conversation with that friend who is always at the effect of some terrible circumstance. They tell you, in detail, the latest mishap, and with such conviction that it would be difficult not to feel sorry for them — if you were naive enough not to realize, after mishap after mishap, and tale after tale, that with them, the drama will never end. But the more you try to inure yourself to their tales, the more dramatic they become. In the end, you can’t help but feel emotionally manipulated. Even if this person believes their own story, it is hard to trust them not to tug excessively hard, fast, and often at your heart strings.

The second kind of conversation is one among acquaintances, perhaps a group of smart freshmen undergraduates getting to know themselves and each other in uncertain new circumstances. Here wit is the currency of the conversation, a constant repartee. In this atmosphere of intellectual one-upsmanship, conversation is designed to hold the others at emotional arms’ length, never risking anything intimate unless it is couched in a sarcastic tone. Any sense of trust in what is being said is constantly subverted by clever, fast-paced ripostes. I have often left such gatherings with a deep sense of alienation.
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