Angst. People admire and despise, protest and support, immerse in and shun, indifferently yawn, while holding very firm opinions as their respective buttons are pressed when they hear the word "angst." As a starting point of Poeticks, we have decided to take up the differing opinions from inside DeviantArt, to lay out those arguments for all of you to read. Please keep in mind that these are "your" thoughts, as they are, and you are completely free to agree or disagree. Our objective is not to push forth an ultimate commandment, but rather to present to you the many (and often times conflicting) opinions we have received from fellow DeviantArt writers, in hopes of perhaps enlightening, sublimating or organizing your perspectives on the matter; or even to entertain you. We would be extremely pleased if it would serve as a personal reference point, or if it would incite writers to question and re-debate in an ongoing constructive development process of individual ideas.
To collect those valuable thoughts and opinions, we sent out questions to over 300 deviant writers. We chose not to set any criteria in those writers we contacted (which is why there were so many), spanning a broad range from writers who support other writing communities such as suture and dark-writing, fairly established writers, recommended writers, and many unheard voices. One effect we were aiming for in diversity was to attempt to provide an unbiased approach. Because we are trying to represent and present to the writing community on DeviantArt, this was of great importance to us. We hope we have succeeded in this regard.
Albeit, while on the subject of bias, we must first apologize to those writers we have contacted who felt there to be bias, or erroneous assumptions in our questions we have sent. Please understand that because your opinions were extremely varied, and we could not bring ourselves to accurately forecast the reactions we were to receive, the questions (to make it as comprehensive as possible) had to sacrifice.
Since Poeticks is still less known to the "DeviantArt public" so to speak, and/or because many writers are no longer active or just busy, we were not able to garner responses from every writer we had questioned. It was our pleasant surprise that all the responses we did get were very thorough and sincere, without any emotional lashings. We were also surprised at the level of discrepancies concerning the word "angst" among fellow writers, and hope you will be as interested in what others have to say. Now, before these introductory words drag on longer than they already have, let us look into what you had to offer.
2: What is "Angst poetry" : Definition and categorization
In our initial question, we asked how one defined "angst poetry." This question became very complicated because opinions were evenly split in three different directions.
The first definition of "angst poetry" was on the same foot as the dictionary. As one writer put it, "angst is a feeling of anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression. So angst poetry would probably be a poetic style which reflects this said attitude or emotion." Words that were often used included "strong anger," "emotional anguish," "negative reflection," "depression," "anxiety," "insecurity," "melancholy," and angst poetry - according to this definition - could be summed up as poetry "about the permanent contradiction between the individual search for authenticity, and the forces which prevent this." Thus, angst poetry was basically defined by the "content," "theme"or "emotional source" of a certain poem.
The second definition labeled "angst poetry," not only by its thematic content, but also by its quality. According to this definition, "angst poetry" is something of inferior quality, "bad poetry"or "meaningless poetry about depression or anxiety," because it "let(s) your lower, inferior emotions get in the way of connecting with the divine" and are "[written by people that] don't want critiques, but compassion, sympathy and attention from the reader." Although there is agreement here that the lack of quality defines "angst poetry," there are subtle differences concerning the content. Some would hold an identical opinion towards the content of "angst poetry" as the aforementioned first group. Others argue that it is mostly (if not completely) poems concerned with depressive states commonly seen among teenagers. This latter argument might not include the sorts of emotional anguish or frustration arising from socio-political opinions, for example. Furthermore, there were also opinions stating "angst poetry"as "an inescapable first step in writing" that we all experience at one point or another.
The third contention was against the term "angst poetry" altogether. This view seemingly holds the same view of "angst poetry" as the first group, but have extreme resentment towards the term being used according to a poem's quality. It also argues that angst poetry "is the most harmful thing writers on DeviantArt have to contend with [because] it's an umbrella label that classes anything not about puppy dogs and sunshine, and everything written by some teenager in the same group." Others claim the term has been "devalued by over-reliance and lazy usage" over a period of time. According to those who hold with this opinion, "angst is the fuel for all art" and it is incorrect and meaningless to categorize any set of poems as "angst" and furthermore, because of this misuse, it stereotypes and devalues any potentially worthwhile poetry.
Taking this third opinion into account, we have decided to send out another round of questions to a handful of writers who have responded early on, asking how they feel about categorizing "angst poetry" as a genre, or moreover, calling (or labeling) a piece of poetry as "angst poetry." Surprisingly enough, despite disparate opinions concerning the definition of "angst poetry" we found that the vast majority were either against, or uneasy about "angst poetry" as a genre, or at least did not view it as a fair and/or legitimate genre because of its often derogatory connotations. One writer comments that any writer would "hold feelings of angst and depend on its powers" at times, and "it is wrong to view it as negative." Another views it as "an insult," and although the categorization may be "apt," it never does justice to that piece of poetry, "trivializing" its quality, "generalizing and invalidating any and all deeper meanings or messages that may be contained" with a misunderstood, yet widely-used definition of "angst poetry." Another contends that sometimes there are poems that "cannot be categorized any other way" but an official categorization as such would hardly be plausible because it would be impossible to "convince writers of angst to declare their poetry as such, due to the negative view of the term." Though some writers concede that it would be nice to have all the poems that actually DO suck in one big basket, they agree it is not something that will be likely to work; in addition, a category of "angst poetry" "would be looked at as a place for bad poetry" even if that may not actually be the case.
3: So is "angst poetry" bad? : Angst and quality.
Our second question asked if "angst poetry" is inherently bad, and of course, it all came down to what one thought "angst poetry" was (i.e. the answer to the first question.) To the writers who did not acknowledge the term "angst poetry" this question doesn't/can't apply. To those who viewed "angst poetry" as something of inferior quality, "angst poetry" was inherently bad poetry, and to those who defined "angst poetry" by thematic content, "angst poetry" is not "inherently" bad, although often lacking. And of course, we might add that "good poetry" is a rather subjective term, and as a result, whether there is any "good poetry" on deviantArt at all, depends on what criteria each writer holds within himself or herself. But whatever one believes "good poetry" to consist of, it was much easier to point out what makes "bad poetry." We asked around, what makes "angst poetry" bad. (Please assume the term "angst poetry" to be whatever you define it. It's such a pain to have to explain over and over that this term, depending on one's view may not mean anything at all.)
And for this question, one word came out in unison from almost every writer we asked: unoriginality. (And in so many other words, "uncreative expression," "cliche," "inarticulate expression," "lack of depth," "overuse of certain expressions," "annoyingly predictable sentence structures," "no real ideas or insights," "hackneyed phrases," "whining about what everyone else whines about" etc. etc.) A close second would be the lack of understanding in techniques such as metred rhymes, metaphors, and other poetic devices, followed by elements such as "the psychological inexperience of the writer" and an attitude of not trying to improve. (An interesting remark states that critics make angst poetry bad, which in its own way may hold some truth as well.) But we must keep in mind, that when asked if these are traits confined to "angst poetry" the answer was for the most part a negative. Any genre of poetry (if "angst poetry" is even a genre), can have its quality hindered by the above listed characteristics, although unoriginality may or may not tend to swerve conspicuously into a certain trend of overused expressions.
4: Bad and good "angst poetry" comparison and the improving process
In this section, although it may come across as somewhat pedantic, we thought it would be worth a try, to look deeper into the quality of "angst poetry" (angst poetry, in this context, would be BAD angst poetry). Now, when writers across dA label something as "angsty" they probably have something like the following piece in mind.
(stolen from teenageangst.com I'm sure they don't mind.)
As I sit and watch my blood,
I pray for an angel from up above
To descend to the earth and end my life
For this is my punishment this is my knife
Crimson trickles down onto the ground
The blood will continue dripping as I wait to be found
In the graveyard I will lie
For ever after I will die
But before I go I want you to know
That I'm not totally gone, I just drifting in snow.
This would probably have a unanimous vote as quintessential "bad" angst poetry. (Now people may disagree, but for argument's sake we hope not.) Since most writers viewed unoriginality as a very important hurdle to overcome, we followed up with a request to list what those writers believed to be common themes/settings/imageries etc. that constitute that unoriginality. And this is what came up: "tears of blood and variations thereof," "sorrow and ocean metaphors," "knife, blade, dagger, cutting, slicing etc." "emotional pain," "suicide," "invariably crimson blood," "use of no metaphors at all, such as you hurt me, bad person, fuck you" and so on, but not before arguing that these themes or imagery "should not have to be shunned altogether." (Just that, because they are commonly used, they should be used "cautiously.") It is, as we've found, a common opinion between these writers, that it is possible to write a "good poem" while incorporating some of these themes or metaphors, on one very important condition, that the execution of the poem is stellar enough to completely overshadow any potential unoriginality. Thus in a way, this is saying that poetic technique is far more important than the actual theme of a poem (despite answers claiming thematic content as a priority), although it wouldn't hurt to stay away from overused imageries until you have developed enough poetic skill to mold them into a piece of art. And the result of such skill might be something like the following poem by Sylvia Plath. (We would like to note that, we have received many opinions stating that Sylvia Plath is "not" an angst poet although that could be true and false depending on the definition of an "angst poet" and the reason we are introducing her here is merely to compare one of her pieces on the topic of suicide to the example piece above, as they share the same theme, not because she is or is not an "angst poet".
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it--
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
My face featureless, fine
Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?--
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot--
The big strip tease.
These are my hands
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.
It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr god, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
So what makes this poem any different from the former (i.e. Crimson)? The writers we have questioned generally believed poems by Plath to be not something of "raw emotions" but "art that has been thought out," "seemingly cliche in retrospect," but yet "very original at the time it was written," using "startlingly unique imagery," and being "deeply analytical of her own complex psychological issues." (It wouldn't be fair though, if we didn't add that while some thought she was a talented writer, others found "some of her works" more worthy and some less so.) Focusing on this piece "Lady Lazarus" as an example, this "unique imagery" is evident in her metaphor of a suicidal victim (herself perhaps) as a Jew in a concentration camp, with the "peanut-crunching crowd" as curious and reserved as eyes looking on the atrocities of the Holocaust. As the title of the poem tells us, there is also a parallel between the protagonist and biblical events (Lazarus being the person Jesus raised from the dead). Also in terms of poetic techniques "Lady Lazarus" is what is widely seen as "light verse" contrasting the mocking light tone of voice with the extremely heavy and morbid theme. As Margaret Dickie explains in her "Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes" (taken from modern English poetry website), this technique of light verse as well as her techniques of hyperbole (exaggerated expressions), seen in the parallels she creates between the protagonist and Christ/Jews, she is attempting to "gain control over the situation" (i.e. to overcome her state of self-victimization by mocking tones towards her enemies/rescuers).
(For further reading of analytical opinions concerning this piece, we recommend www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poet…).
Now look back at the first poem, "Crimson."
We have in our questionnaire, asked what each individual thought to be the "most important thing to keep in mind, or critically in need of improvement" when writing angst-based poetry. Here is what they had to say.
- "the writer must improve everything from poetic technique to vocabulary", "must be creative in their thinking, and not be set on writing what first comes to mind; they need to develop their work"
- "see all sides of what you are presenting or else a myopic enraged perspective will create a cartoon that is unrealistic and will lack depth."
- "if you like end-rhymes and traditional structures, study metres, and if you like free-verse, learn the natural flow of words...learn poetic devices such as assonances, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and so forth"
- "read other good poetry"
- "unhappiness is not interesting per se... bring something new to the experience"
- "have a purpose for posting it. If it is something you are submitting, make it something we would want to read. Keep the reader in mind"
- "initial feelings are not the best that you can do... I'm sorry, but are you telling the rest of the world, or are you still on the phone with her? If you can make the ordinary interesting, people will want to know how you came to perceive it that way"
- "Revise. Your words aren't perfect. Ask others to tear apart your poems, pay attention to overall spelling, grammar, punctuation and line breaks"
- "If you're so different and misunderstood, show exactly what goes on in your mind. Don't just tell us life sucks."
- "Show, don't tell. (a nice write up by onewordatatime concerning this issue here www.deviantart.com/deviation/7… )
- "Don't repeat yourself over and over"
and many variations of the same thing has been said over and over by many different writers, so we'd like to believe that most of them would be applicable, if you are willing enough to let them apply. (We also advise poets to read through "Tips for a Novice" by suture, which can be found here www.deviantart.com/deviation/7… )
To continue on to chapters 5-11 of the article, click here: www.deviantart.com/deviation/8…
This includes the following chapters:
5: Can angst poetry be structured?: angst and poetic forms
6: Further readings
7: "Angst" on deviantArt: submitting, commenting and critiquing
8: "Angst" on deviantArt: selected poems
9. Conclusion and Acknowledgements
10. Appendix I: "Angst" as a philosophy.
11. Appendix II: "Angst"and "Dark"
- Poeticks July 2004