Thanks to Anna Napp for today's post about writing outside of our comfort zone. She pushes herself - and us - to explore that which is difficult in order to grow and craft something new.
Anna C. Napp is a poet, writer and teacher based in Denver, Colorado. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2004 in Poetry. She has taught English at several colleges in Colorado. She is, also, the founder of The Thirty Twelve Project. Her publications include Snowline Poetry Journal, Painted Moon Review, Lumina, The Mountain Gazette and A Poet's Guide to Motherhood.
The Beauty of Brutality and the Art of Making People Uncomfortable
In my opinion, when poetry is at its worst is when it plays it safe. Or should I say, when the poet plays it safe. It becomes insipid, banal, and boring. It can be frightening to dig deep into those dark places. To reach out into the blackness of pain, hurt, fear, insecurity, anger—all of the “ugly” emotions. Yes, there is wonderful poetry out there with the sole purpose of celebration of the beautiful aspects of this world. Love poetry, nature poetry, celebration poetry. But where I truly believe we grow and expand as humans is when art challenges us and our comfort zones.
We love our comfort zone. It’s cozy, warm, and, most importantly, safe. We can wallow in our comfort zone for days, months, years and even a lifetime if we’re that unfortunate. By doing this, we fade a little at a time and ultimately let our comfort zone define who we are, one that we will defend with a vengeance.
When I write, I try to challenge my own comfort zone. I push to make myself uncomfortable, and when I make myself uncomfortable, I know I’m on to something. And when I’m uncomfortable, I know people reading my poetry will be very uncomfortable. I am not a celebratory writer. There are times I wish I could just turn away from the pain and loss I write so much about and write about love and beauty. When I do, they are my weakest pieces. I need the “ugly” emotions for my work. I pluck at them like strings on a guitar and sometimes together they make beautiful music.
It took me a long time to realize that my childhood was a violent one. Not in the obvious way. I didn’t grow up in a war zone or with an abusive relation. I had a mother who from my birth fought Lupus until her death when I was 18. I watched her go through medical tortures from my very beginning. That left me with a history of pain, anger, and loss. Now, when I write, I surprise myself by the brutal images I evoke, but I finally understand where they come from.
When I titled my first manuscript Sever, my husband was taken aback by its starkness. I knew immediately I had my title. If he was uncomfortable by it, then that’s what I wanted. I want people to examine why my imagery makes them squirm. It’s such a good thing. No progress ever came from being comfortable. I encourage people when faced with the instinct to turn away from something that makes them uncomfortable, to instead take a step toward it and wonder what it is in themselves that wants to look away.