DEAR EXENE: I'm an aspiring poet who recently had an important realization. I've been performing for a couple of years as a spoken-word artist. But for the past six months, it seems I've been far too fixated on love poems—more specifically, "love gone wrong" poems. I look at it as being the same way musicians can get caught up in always writing the same lovelorn lyrics about a guy or girl who has done them wrong. I think it stems from my break-up last year with my girlfriend of three years after she decided to move to New York for a job opportunity. At the time, I was sad, but still happy for her. Anyway, even though I thought I was getting past it, my feelings of hurt and loss over her seem to be coming out more and more in my writing lately, and I'm not sure why. I don't want those emotions to necessarily bog down this creative outlet. Poetry is supposed to be a way for me to experiment creatively with new ideas and experiences in my life, not continue rehashing the same old feelings. As someone who has written a lot of poetry in your life (song lyrics included), do you have any advice on how to get out of a creative rut?
DEAR JASON: In the 3rd century B.C., Apollonius Rhodius wrote The Argonautica, the story of Jason and Medea. It's all about "the pathology of love." What is more profound and interesting and devastating and universal than love? "Stardust, make the world go away," "I've been loving you too long," "Baby, it's you," "Ring of Fire," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," "I'm so lonesome I could cry" . . . Poetry or lyrics must say what hasn't been said before. As time goes on, that gets harder, of course. So it is a creative exercise to write about love in a new way. Poems don't have to be first-person. You could write in a narrative style, projecting your woe-is-me onto characters. You could write a love poem and cut it up and randomly re-assemble it into something weird and abstract. It's good to write about what you are feeling, even if it's clichéd or redundant—no one has to read it but you. Just grab the lines or words that you know are good and let the rest go. I've got endless lines and poems and songs no one will ever see (I hope). Keep your channels open to inspiration, write all the time, and work really hard.
Exene Cervenka is a writer, visual artist and punk-rock pioneer. The OC transplant is the lead singer for X, the Knitters and Original Sinners. If you want to ask the legendary vocalist for advice, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This column appeared in print as "Lovesick Lyricist."