"If a man fears death, / he shall be saved by his poems."
from Mark Strand's "The New Poetry Handbook"
The two previous posts have elicited strong responses from several people. It appears many of us identify with the feeling that writing has become a necessary part of their lives, as necessary as eating and sleeping. Others resonate with the idea that to destroy one's art is to destroy a bit of one's self, and a few of us understand this feeling from direct experience. Some of us have destroyed our poems, journals, drawings, or other art we have created out of a sense of self-loathing, or misdirected rage, or embarassment, or perhaps because, like Lucille Clifton's mother, we were forced to do so.
I am very curious to know of other experiences of people who have, at some point in their lives, destroyed their art. What circumstances caused you to do it? What feelings did you have as you did it? How did you feel afterwards? What does that sacrifice mean to you now? Do you still feel the urge to do it?
I will share an art-destruction story of my own. When I was eleven, our local small town newspaper was having a contest for kids. Every day they printed a picture of a clown, and I would cut it out and color it in. You could do as many as you wanted, then send them all in. The best colored-in clown won a prize.
Creating art in my family was dangerous. Any creative risk was met with suspicion and sarcasm from my parents, so I hid these pictures in my room. (I didn't find out until I was in my twenties that my sister had been writing poems since her childhood, and keeping them in a large binder. She has hundreds of them, all kept secret for years.) I can't remember what prompted my mother's rage on that day--she was prone to fits of hostility and depression--but I remember her throwing things, yelling, and sending me to my room.
What I remember best about the entire incident is what I felt in that room. Most likely it was a warped anger against my mother, but I felt it as an intense self-loathing, a sense that I was incurably "bad," because my mother disliked me so much. I saw those clown pictures sitting on the floor of my room in a small stack, and I hated them. I hated that I had colored them, had bothered to hope that I might do something special. I hated that I had allowed myself to become vulnerable enough to believe that art was worthwhile. I hated that they existed.
I grabbed at the stack and started ripping paper as fast as I could, tearing apart the clown faces with sobbing fury. Once I had reduced the stack to a pile of ripped, colored newsprint, I felt a strange catharsis, as if I could breathe again. I stuffed the pieces in my trashcan and lay on my bed, unmoving, for a long time.
This sacrifice of my art was a sacrifice of a piece of my eleven-year-old heart. But it also helped me survive in an painful family situation. I could have never shown that kind of anger to my parents without severe consequences, and the destruction of the clown helped me proccess it, albeit it in a misdirected way. Part of me mourns the clowns; part of me is glad I had the clowns to rip up so I didn't do it to my body. It's difficult to judge.