Capturing emotions in words sometimes reminds me of trying to catch a beam of light in the hand. I’ve tried lots of common rhetorical tricks with varying degrees of success: describing the physical characteristics of the emotion; using a description of nature to evoke the emotion; telling a story that hopefully leads the reader to an epiphany of the emotion; comparing the emotion to something else. Often, I have turned the emotion into a physical object, alive and animate, or inert but taking up space in a surrealistic scene. One chapter in The Brother Silver, for example, unfolds as a discussion between the various emotions a character feels, each one assuming an appropriate personality and point of view.
A few years back I wrote a cycle of poems in which I used language equivalents of Cubist painting to describe emotions as if they were paintings. About half of the poems, including “Cubist Fear,” made it into literary journals, and all 12 are in my chapbook, Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month (Poets Haven Press, 2017). I later took images from “Cubist Fear” and one other Cubist poem, “Cubist Anger,” and inserted them into a panic attack that one of the characters experiences in my novel, The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing in June.
The publisher of Poets Haven Press died at a very young age about 18 months ago. The website remains up, but one can no longer order any Poets Haven books from it. It’s available on Amazon, but you have to select the option that isn’t Poets Haven. You can also contact me directly on Facebook Messenger or firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll sell you a copy (as long as my supply lasts).
Emerging from patches of blackness
brutal heads and bodies lug their clothes
on shoulders hanging sideways next to them,
rambling menace blown through streetlamp streaks,
the blinking eyes of feral cats embroider other shadows
stalking light that freezes, splinters, soars.
Rectangular sirens blare, then fade to silence, fade to
shouting mouthless goodbyes turning gray and brittle,
haunted triads wince, afraid to delve a brown abyss
of pasted magazines, of posters, strips of parchment.
Golem is a letter A that crushes other letters into dust,
the dust is golem hiding from itself in squares,
every color I can think of flashes dreaded choking,
flashes ghastly chilling deadly bleak unknowns.
Published in English and French in Recours au Poème 2016; Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month (Poet’s Haven, 2017)