The poetry will heal you school…

If you need a doctor you don’t want to go to a poet unless she or he has a medical degree. And yet it amazes me how many creative writers believe that poetry heals people. My contention has always been that poetry won’t hurt you overmuch and it can turn you from depression toward fascinations. But it won’t cure depression and it won’t make you whole. Moreover, some of the most vicious and dishonest academic creative writers are the loudest purveyors of the poetry will heal you movement. This is MFA as snake oil. AWP as therapeutic massage.

The flip side of this is the Robert Bly school of thought: you must live alone and suffer like St. John of the Cross in order to be an artist. This is also bullshit. Eschewing happiness won’t make you creative. The very idea is like putting on a scourge, stuffing stones in your shoes. Bly dined out on this idea for years. Picture the average poetry audience: half believing poetry would cure their hangnails; the other half believing they needed more hangnails.

The poetry will heal you school thinks that the body is a thing to be overcome. It views the head as a lifeboat from disablement. Poetry is supposed to fix you up, and damn, here comes one of those crippled poets to mess it all up!

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

2 thoughts on “The poetry will heal you school…”

  1. No argument with your assessment of the creative writing industrial complex…

    But that’s a lazy parody of Bly and John of the Cross, poets who lived their whole lives in community, and whose poetry is full of joy. Either you don’t know their biographies, or you are choosing to ignore them.

    “No one writes alone: one needs a community.” — Bly
    “Happiness is not a destination, it’s a method of travel” — John of the Cross


    As for the irreducible human truths of solitude and suffering, Lorine Niedecker put it best:

    “No matter where you are
    you are alone
    and in danger — well
    to hell
    with it.”


  2. Are: Bly. I’ve been looking for decades now trying to find the poem where he ponders which is the better life: a monk dedicated to self abnegation, or an artist fully engaging in the highs and lows of the sensual life. If I remember correctly, he landed on the side of the artist.
    On the other hand I could be imagining the whole thing, like the time I told my family I once sold slices of pineapple upside down cake during Lilac Sunday, an unintentional confabulation which irrevocably damaged my pretense to accurate memories.


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