There Once Was a Question From Nantucket…

Advice and insight from a professional poet.




Do you think it’s therapeutic to have arguments with your loved ones in verse? I read it in another advice column. It said that if you write your arguments in song or poetry, eventually you’ll realize how ridiculously silly they are. But I think that if I recite a limerick about how much I hate my girlfriend’s habits, she’ll get pissed.
— Kyle, Needham, Massachusetts

It might be therapeutic for you, Kyle, but I don’t think it would be therapeutic for you and your girlfriend as a couple, especially if you have an argument in limerick form. You will probably rhyme an unflattering term with your girlfriend’s name, as she will rhyme an unflattering term with yours: “There once was a jerk named Kyle/ Who smelled like a garbage pile/ grotesque bile/ a dead fish from the Nile.” And as the original purpose of rhyme was to enable memorization, you both will have difficulty letting the argument blow over.

I suppose a limerick exchange could be very funny, and both of you might end up laughing, but that of course depends on your and your girlfriend’s sense of humor, the sincerity and accuracy of each limerick, and tone of voice.

I don’t want to contradict another advice columnist, so I’m going to stay on the fence here. They say that you should always think before you act, and arguing in verse would require more premeditation, so maybe it would work. I, personally, would never do it because I take poetry very seriously. I think you need distance, and tactful revisions, so I would advise holding off the argument and writing a real poem, using your initial rage as an impetus. Find a metaphor for that rage and channel it into something else. Diann Blakely uses horror movies in “Bad Blood”:

… Almost sensual, these open-mouthed pleas

For blessing, as when we let water sluice its warm passage down
    Our flesh at the end
Of a day that’s pummeled us into exhaustion and blankness,
   When we drop our hands
To unbutton a shirt, pull on the harsh teeth of a zipper,
   Look in someone’s eyes
And pray love me, treasure my body, don’t ever let me die.

13 April 2009

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.

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