Note to poets: Stop killing yourselves

When people search on Google for big news, they don’t end up here. The random Web lands here when interest in some small corner of the world meshes with mine. The sporadic audience lands here when it searches for a mayoral candidate sharing my name, for the town in Nick Hornby’s recent book or for “what would I look like with a beard.”

A sad burst of traffic came recently after I wrote briefly on poet Rachel Wetzsteon’s suicide. I’d never heard of her before seeing her obituary, but her death was major, horrible news to the people who knew her. If my fragment of the Internet was any indication, those people went searching everywhere for information about her death and her life.

So, I hope those same surfers come across this post in the Los Angeles Times’ Jacket Copy. The books blog links to the Best American Poetry blog post by Jennifer Michael Hecht, a writer and New School prof who knew Wetzsteon. In the post, Hecht makes a plea against suicide.

There are poets and other artists, psychotherapists and average Joes, who are thinking of your struggle and appreciating what you have managed to put up with. We are grateful. Best of all, practicing tuning in to your gratitude for other’s staying alive also tones up your ability to feel the gratitude that people are extending to you too, you start to feel the support of it, the invisible arms. Don’t kill yourself. Suffer here with us instead. We need you with us, we have not forgotten you, you are our hero. Stay.

I couldn’t agree more.

Hecht’s follow-up post thanks readers and is similarly evocative.

How can we shiny broken freaks possibly survive without each other? Impossible. We have got to cultivate faith in humanity, in art, in artists, and in the eaters of art. I have to focus on noticing how not alone I am. If we suffer together I think I can manage it. It almost sounds like fun. And it appears that we are suffering together.

A third post on the subject, from Lera Auerbach, is just as good. The approach is different and less direct but the message is no different.

So many poets have killed themselves ““ they could form a city or a small country of their own. Somewhere in the gray islands of Nowhere, after getting drunk on the waters of the Styx, they can’t quite remember the reasons for self-slaughter. Surely there must have been something unthinkably unbearable, but what comes to mind is the messy kitchen, the stack of unopened bills, smells of decay, the yellowing pages of an old folded newspaper with a poem printed from the time when they still loved themselves ““ and it was mutual.

“Writing poems is a dangerous profession,” Auerbach writes later in the post. “Playing with the gods has its side-effects.”

The fourth, final post tackles a perspective not covered in the previous three, Wetzsteon’s career. After enjoying, you find yourself joining the random Web again and Googling for more of her poems. Several sites have posted works of hers loaded with melancholy but hopeful in their last lines. See “Short Ode to Morningside Heights” and “Commands for the End of Summer” here and “Manhattan Triptych” here. The last line of the latter poem is a stunner, and you wish life had followed art.

One thought on “Note to poets: Stop killing yourselves”

  1. Great art often comes from struggle. Artists — at least, many of the musicians I know — battle mightily through inner turmoil but then express the pain, joy, love, sadness and hope in the beauty of words, pictures and sounds. It is the best outlet; that, and time spent on the knees. Suicide is never a good answer to anything. Having lived through the death of a loved one that way, I am keenly aware of the devastation it leaves behind.

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