Community Feedback is our recurring column that provides an opportunity for our audience to get some quick, free & exceptional feedback on a new poem. Submit your poem here. This month’s guest editor is torrin a. greathouse.
This month, we chose Terrie Silverman’s poem, “How To Loathe Yourself.” Thank you to all of our submitters.
How To Loathe Yourself
- Go to bed way too late, then be exhausted overwhelmed the next day with how much work you need to do, but can’t, because you’re exhausted
- Answer your mother’s texts 48 hours later
- Have too much stuff and not enough hangers and drawer space
- Don’t bring your car to the carwash, instead try to wash your car when you get gas and use the windshield squeegee on the front, back and sides of your car and then try to ignore the dirty water that dribbles down and makes you car look like it cried and smeared its’ mascara
- Eat while you’re using your computer so the keys get icky
- Keep a comforter that’s torn, put a safety pin in it, see the white, most likely toxic stuffing, but do not toss it.
- Be distressed by your stacks and piles of papers, but keep making them slightly bigger each week.
- Be afraid of cockroaches, then put a glass jar on top of them & be too afraid to flush then down the toilet, which means there’s a glass jar with a dead cockroach in your tub, which means you can’t wash the tub and it’s covered with the grime from the polluted air, which has settled in your tub, so when guests come over you put a clothes rack in the tub, hang clothes on it to divert attention away from the dirty porcelain tub and then take a white towel and drape it onto the lowest clothes rack rung, to try to further cover and distract from the dirty tub.
- Be in your head
- Be very disappointed that you’re not further along in your career.
- Believe your faults are sins.
- Remind yourself that a Therapist said, “ You keep talking about the same issues year after year and haven’t made any progress”
- Be jealous and envious of people you do know and of famous people you don’t
- Don’t do daily gratitudes
- Feel guilty about not meditating
- Be late to yoga EVERY TIME and then curse yourself
- Ask your therapist for tools to reduce anxiety and then forget to do them
- Don’t volunteer except in presidential election years
- Buy way too much food wrapped in plastic
- Don’t take clothes to the dry cleaner that have stains on them. Stop wearing them and wish there were no stains.
- Give up on romantic love
- Want to do nothing but watch Downton Abbey
- Be quick to honk
- Feel like a failure that you can’t love yourself despite listening religiously to Marianne Williamson, Pema Chodren, Brene Brown, Thich Nhat Hanh and Mr. Rogers
- Discover making a list of your faults is satisfying
Sticking the Landing
Many poems hinge upon the relationship established between the speaker and audience of the piece. Some of the best poems invoke and complicate a fraught relationship between these two figures. Which makes the conceit of this poem—a didactic piece in which the speaker and their audience are one and the same—a particularly difficult thing to pull off. Despite this, Silverman’s first draft is incredibly close to sticking the landing.
Straight out of the gate, the title does an excellent job of establishing the context and stakes of the poem. But it also sets up the tension and fundamental contradiction of the piece. This is a set of instructions you do not want to follow. And indeed, there are moments when the poem begins to fight against itself from within, where it attempts to resist self-loathing before falling collapsing back toward it.
“Ask your therapist for tools to reduce anxiety and then forget
to do them.”
The intentionality that this title implies grates against the outcome it offers, a friction that emerges a few times throughout, but is often just beneath the surface of the text. Perhaps, as Silverman continues to edit the piece, it has the space to wear more of this conflict on its face.
Another thing that struck me is how, throughout, the speaker’s voice is extremely plain-spoken and conversational, creating an interesting balance with emotional stakes of the poem. There is an emotional flatness here which characterizes a deep depression, even when the poem is at its most frantic. Sentences are almost unilaterally imperative, adjectives are sparse, and the choice of verbs leans toward simplistic.
This is especially effective in the fourth section of the poem, which neatly instructs the audience not to
“[B]ring your car to the carwash, instead try to wash your
car when you get gas and use the windshield squeegee on the
front, back and sides of your car,”
before swinging into the poem’s solitary moment of figurative language, demanding that they
dirty water that dribbles down and makes you car look
like it cried and smeared its mascara.”
This tone is further enforced by the plethora of state-of-being verbs, something typically rigorously trained out of writers. The “be” that begins many of the numbered instructions does not ask that the audience do anything to reach self-loathing, instead implying that this state is ongoing, an inescapable condition.
In its best moments, this poem blends this tone with playful digression, allowing the piece to move organically from yoga, to tips given in therapy, to volunteering for political campaigns. If anything, I’d love to see Silverman lean even further into this, allowing more digression, play, and wildness into the motion of the poem.
”How to Loathe Yourself” has a few opportunities to be sharpened with intentional revision. Two of these lie in the form of the poem, and I will discuss those first.
Right now, the order of the piece’s numbered sections feels very incidental, which, on one hand reinforces the almost stream of consciousness style of the piece, but also leaves the arc of the poem somewhat unsatisfying. In its current incarnation, the poem is a little top heavy. Some of the most interesting moments, and all of the places where Silverman pauses on a moment for more than three lines, all come in the first third of the poem. I think that the poem would benefit a lot from being shuffled around, and seeing if through reordering a stronger emotional arc could emerge.
I am also wondering whether the numbered segments are benefitting the piece or hindering it. List poems can be an extremely useful framework for first drafts, but I’ve noticed that in my own work a lot of these pieces come into their own when I remove that scaffolding. Consider removing the numbering and letting this poem try on the shape of a prose poem.
In this form, the verbs—particularly “be”—that begin many of the numbered sections will act as an anaphoric signal of the poem’s redirection from one idea to the next, while seeming less repetitive than they do when visually aligned along the left column. The freedom of prose poems is also that it allows you to engage in language without the confines that line or section breaks create. This can be useful in letting work engage in the kind of play that I think this piece could benefit from more of. Consider the way that David Ignatow’s “Information” engages its prosaic form to loosen the constraints of poetic language and form its conversational, ambling voice.
The last thing that I wanted to zoom in on is the poem’s ending line:
“25. Discover making a list of your faults is satisfying.”
I think that the poem is engaging with the idea of self-destructive cycles, depression, self-loathing, and the ways we are taught to try and overcome ourselves in some very interesting ways. Right now, despite wrapping the piece neatly in a bow, this ending doesn’t quite do the work of the poem justice. Perhaps because it attempts to neatly end a narrative that is ongoing, one that the rest of the poem positions as perpetually so. One of my early writing mentors, the journalist Barry Siegel, taught me something about the craft of nonfiction which I have found useful to carry into my poetics. The stories you write don’t begin where you start or end because you have stopped writing. A story does not have a beginning or an ending, just an entrance and an exit.
What kind of conclusion can you craft for this poem that is an exit instead of a resolved ending? How can you, as Marianne Boruch describes in this immensely useful essay on ending poems, lean into the aftersound or haunting a poem can deliver when narrative continues beyond the poem’s final lines?
Feedback written by torrin a. greathouse. torrin a. greathouse is a genderqueer trans womxn & cripple-punk haunting the greater Boston area. She is the author of boy/girl/ghost (TAR Chapbook Series, 2018) & winner of the Peseroff Poetry Prize, Palette Poetry Prize, & the Naugatuck River Narrative Poetry Prize. Their work is published/forthcoming in POETRY, The New York Times, Poem-a-Day, & The Kenyon Review. When she is not writing, her hobbies include awkwardly drinking coffee at parties & trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.