Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Containing Powerful Emotions

By Laurie Epps

When you're in love, sometimes it's next to impossible to write. The only rubbish you can mumble out is, "I love you, I love you, I love you." What a boring story that makes for your readers. I have to often think of something else to write about, you can't write about love when you are in love. For me, that's next to impossible. But give me a good break-up and I can write about that for hours. Sometimes, the greatest tragedies in our lives makes for the best writing we have to offer.

There is a famous 1960s poet named Sylvia Plath. When I took Modern Poetry last semester, her words and beautiful use of colorful metaphors spoke to me on a profound level. But any fan of poetry will tell you, Plath's themes are anything but happy. Still, to her contemporaries, she is regarded as a powerful and prolific poet. After reading her work in class, I found out why.

For my own analysis, I wrote about her poem "Tulips" and later her poem "Lady Lazurus". That night, while toiling over my paper in Food for Thought on campus, I cried and cried.

Tulips especially spoke to me. In Plath's poem bearing the same name, the focal point of the poem is some bright red tulips against the backdrop of a stark white hospital room. Most analyze that her poem is talking about her resentment of her newborn. Conversely, I countered that she didn't resent her child, but instead loved her child. What I believed Plath resented was the compartmentalization of her role or place in society. But that wasn't what made me cry.

What made it so powerful for me, was the imagery. I'm a cancer survivor twice over. The first time, I had cervical cancer in 1993-1994. The second time was uterine. The words of her poem brought back memories ofI  being in the hospital room. I revisited my dark, and dismal days in the memory of my sickness.

To make matters worse, after reading the poems, I read her biography. You see, Plath committed suicide just months after these poems were written. The clues to her demise were all over her poetry. I couldn't help but identify with this young mother. I kept wondering why anyone didn't know of her despair or care.

Despite being desperately upset by Plath's poetry, it did inspire me to write about those dark times and encourage other people going in the trenches with their illness. There is life after cancer, and there is even life after divorce. Oh, and my paper? Well, just as you would suspect, it was a powerful paper too. 

In Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat Pray Love, Gilbert states that ruin is a gift. This is especially true for us as writers. 

When did you use a tragedy, dark or sad moment to write, and write powerfully? Please tell us about it below. Join the conversation. The Write Conversation.

Laurie Epps is a non-fiction author, essayist, editor, and poet living in Anderson, South Carolina. A seeker of beauty, her is dream is to travel the world one day and tell their many stories. To read more of Laurie's stories visit her Monday Morning Book Club column dedicated to writers everywhere, or her Thoughtful Thursday column dedicated to the art of Poetry at: http://thewriteconversation.blogspot.com


  1. My boss died suddenly at the age of 39. I had grown to appreciate and respect him but I never told him. The pain of my regret drove me to write an article entitled "I Never Told Him." It reminds readers to say what needs to be said before it's too late. It's been reprinted several times so I know it strikes a chord.

  2. Yes it's true. Tragedy can bring forth some of life's most powerful metaphors. Not only can the reader imagine being there with you, but it also transfers great inspiration to those we could reach any other way. Keep the faith, and keep sharing life's stories. Thanks for stopping by.