As a boarding school student, I’ve naturally had to deal with a lot of deep intimate and troubling conversations at obscure hours in the morning. The bulk of these occur in the weeks before a holiday: everybody is just tired and stressed and has way too many deadlines, and on top of all this is getting quite homesick. So we end up sitting in corridors, sipping tea and talking about depression, suicide, death. Granted sometimes we talk about cheerier things too, but these are bittersweet topics like how close we are to our siblings and how brilliant it was to go to the beach that one time with our mums and dads.
Unfortunately, there isn’t always an easy way of saying the more difficult things in life. Fortunately for us, somebody runs a creative writing tumblr account for our school and our sister schools. So unsurprisingly when we are gripped with these nauseating fears and bouts of depression, we go to this site and submit anonymously.
All of this is to say one thing: poetry is not as intense as prose. A quick look through the tumblr in question will show you that most all of these depression related posts are done in freeverse poetry form. But they are written in such a way that you could remove the line breaks and it would make a simple paragraph.
So why don’t we? Because we are used to seeing a heightened sense of reality, what we often refer to as the “poetic feel of a poem”, within these poems. However we use simple prose for more diverse topics, including (and perhaps most commonly) to state things as they are or to give a clear perception of reality as it is. It is a slice of life compared to the poetic slice of ultra-HD life.
To show this I will write the typical poem that you’ll find on that tumblr page. You’ll notice there’s not much too it, very little personal touch despite the fact that it is about what should be a very personal topic.
Falling into darkness
I don’t know how it started
But now I just want it to end
It all leads to
You stopped holding me
And stopped caring
So I too stopped
And now I feel nothing
So nothing I’ll become.
Cute isn’t it? Really dark, mysterious, sort of weird and there are line breaks where there shouldn’t be. You can hear the teenager behind the keyboard trying to be poetic and deep, especially in the last few lines, but it’s not really working well. Then again I could’ve probably published this alone on WordPress and gotten a few likes, because it does feel poignant at parts. But this among a sea of similarly paced and written poems would find itself lacking that tang that makes it garner a few likes here and there. Now look at the prose:
I don’t know how it started but now I just want it to end. The falling, the darkness, it all leads to death. You stopped holding me and stopped caring, so I too stopped caring for me – and now I feel nothing, so nothing I’ll become.
Suddenly I’m on red alert and am sending this person suicide hotline numbers. This person is obviously in a bad state, and needs help – pronto. But even though I got similar vibes from the poem, it was easier to dismiss them because it’s written to be sensationalist. Poems highlight the abstract through over the top descriptions, but we don’t expect the same to come from a piece of prose.
This is important. It’s important because the same emotions are behind these poems and prose, and while the teen writing it may be deliberately overblowing the situation, you shouldn’t be distracted by the structure. Any cry for help, no matter how small or distorted, is a cry for help.
So help the sensationalist teen next time you see one. Please.