The Right Flavor of Pain

Pain fuels creativity; we all know it. Strong emotions make good art.

Poetry spins darkness into a million shades of beauty.

Poetry even spins darkness into light sometimes; light that is made more beautiful and whole by the process.

I have no problem believing this. I affirm that pain has been a catalyst for some of the greatest written songs of consciousness I have ever witnessed.

I do have a problem with hurting in a way that won’t let me use the hurt to grow or create.

It’s not a matter of degree. My most intense despair makes great fuel, when it’s felt cleanly. Its impetus might even push out a poem I’ve held back out of insecurity, because I am less likely to feel I have anything to lose.

It’s the flavor of suffering that makes the difference. Authentic emotions, each with their own spice, are all usable. Even the bleak and thin taste of loneliness has its place. But there’s one flavor that sucks out all others and turns a potentially unique recipe into mush.

It’s not an emotion, but rather a condition. You probably know what I am going to say. It’s depression. Deep, clinically significant depression.

When my depressive symptoms are elevated, poems don’t want to come. The poems come when I’ve clawed my way out far enough to scream; far enough to feel the need to scream.

I know poetry is more than a cat’s cradle of pain. I know the ability to transfigure emotion is only the beginning, but it’s a pretty important one. Of all the reasons I have to despise my mental illness, its periodic theft of my creativity is one of the strongest.

Unicorn Evils

Right now, literature students somewhere are probably writing a paper about what “unicorn evils” means.

They are probably not the first.

It comes from “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” by Dylan Thomas. I ran across the poem in the library the other day, and I was blown away by how wonderfully weird it is. People think of it as romantic or inspirational, because of the theme of overcoming death and the most quoted couplet:

“Though lovers be lost love shall not, 
And death shall have no dominion.”

But when I read the whole poem, I fell in love with some very different phrases.

“Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through…”

This is what can be so wonderful for me about knowing nothing sometimes. The aforementioned graduate students probably have an idea about what Thomas meant when he wrote this. They’ve got mythological references, or information about the poet’s life and how it’s really a reference to some actual person, or they’ve linked it to some other writing somewhere.

Don’t get me wrong–if I won the lottery, you’d find me in those classrooms in a heartbeat. But because I know nothing, I’m free to put my own interpretations on the phrases. Even if I knew a lot, I think I’d try to preserve the ability to do this for my personal pleasure.

Also, “Unicorn Evils” would be a great band name.