Sympathy versus pity.
Sympathy comes incidentally from the sharing of a poem. It comes naturally. A poet does not/cannot strategize to receive it. Sympathy is kindness. It has nothing to do with love.
One strives for pity. One begs for this unearned kind of love.
For poets self-pity is a public act. A strategic act made of words.
Sympathy simply happens in the mind of the reader. It often isn’t made of words. It’s a mere feeling.
Self-pity is not a bad thing. It is not necessarily a monotone whine. It can be a beautifully crafted song. As in the case of Schuyler’s poems.
Self-pity more often than not is honest. It often is an honest and open indulgence. Even if ultimately unattractive.
Schuyler’s words confess a desire for pity. Self-referentially, they admit their own manipulative nature. Have I made it clear why I would love a poem entitled “Self-Pity is a Kind of Lying, Too”? Here is the poem in its entirety:
vision days and
mas is coming, like
a plow. And in the
meat the snow. Strange.
It all reminds me
of an old lady I
once saw shivering
naked beside a black
polluted stream. You
the train didn’t
stop-so. And the
white which is
some other color or
spins on itself
and so do the Who
at Leeds I’m playing
to drown the carols
blatting from the
steeple which is
the same as fight-
ing fire with oil.
cold-one day we’ll
just have snow
to wear too.
What I find alluring about this poem (other than the use of the verb “blatting”) is the title “Self-Pity is a Kind of Lying Too.” Which is an admission of the artifice of his own self-pitying words. At the same, notice he says “a kind of lying.” The striving to express his own self-pity (and by extension the poem) is of "a kind." Not actual and complete phoniness.
I see that title as an admission that contorting the autobiographical narrative is OK. If it’s in service of something. Like a poem. A wonderful poem.
Here that something larger is also a need for comfort. In a world where religion can offer us nothing. Through a single line break, he reduces the whole Presbyterian church to a mere steeple. Even the religious holiday of Christmas is destroyed through enjambment: a loud, capitalized X followed by the lonely, useless “-mas.” That X cancels out religion.
The self-pity inherent in these declarations (how sad it is religion fails to be of use) leave him with nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except the benignly comic fact that we’re all doomed: “one day we’ll/ just have snow/to wear too.”
His self-pity transforms into a minimally consoling, collective misery. Who can resist that?
Poetry workshop at Decatur Writers Studio
4 weeks ago