The Shock-Receiving Capacity

Virginia Woolf wrote that it was her “shock-receiving capacity” that made her a writer. I think writers, particularly poets, have a perpetual déjà vu, remembering bits and pieces of experiences, usually nondescript, that harbor images that repeatedly cry out to be cast upon paper.

Woolf said, the moment remembered was a “token of some real thing behind appearances; and I make it real by putting it into words.” The shock or “moment of being” for some artists is childhood abuse, but for others, it is less obvious.

Poets are closer to scientists than mathematicians are. Their capacity to observe and to make sense of observation create a connection. Mary Oliver and Stephen Hawking see eye to eye. The poet relies on facts, on the detail, to get things right—the picture clear and the story plausible.

It is only bad poetry that lives in the abstract, in the clouds of unreality, far from the waves of the shocking experience that fine-tune the poetic voice.

I remember the broken head of a doll floating in a ditch, frosted glasses salvaged from the trash, houses made of Roy Clark and Ray Price albums, the metallic smell of the air cooler on the porch. I work with the images over and over.

“. . . one’s life is not confined to one’s body and what one says and does; one is living all the time in relation to certain background rods or conceptions. . . . this conception affects me every day. I prove this, now, by spending the morning writing.”

–Shaun Perkins

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