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Ask the Agony Editor: on poetic license

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Be warned: there must be 50 ways to write about your ex-lover

Brian-Francis-FinalDear Agony Editor,

I had a brief but intense relationship with another writer and, in our mania, we wrote poems about each other. My ex has submitted these poems for publication. I am left feeling rather betrayed because, if you know me, there are enough clues to figure out my identity. Should I tell him to stop sending them out? Or should I send out ones I wrote about him and tell myself we’re even?

Signed,
Bee in my Sonnet

Dear Bee,
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why writers would want to date other writers. Every little detail gets over-examined, you have heated discussions about people who don’t exist, and you spend time trying to out-adjective one another. And let’s not forget the biggest reason to steer clear: writers are material whores when it comes to their own lives. Parents, childhood friends, the bucktoothed lady who works at the 7-Eleven will all find their way onto the page at some point. So getting involved with a writer – and then breaking up – means you’ll likely make an appearance, too. As a writer, you knew this walking into the relationship. But not everyone can see the haiku for the trees.

I’m curious to know what your ex’s poetry actually reveals. Are we learning about your dysfunctional family? Your sexual prowess? Or is one of his poems called “Toenail Fungus”? In any case, I feel your angst. I don’t recommend telling him to stop sending his poems out (nothing enrages a writer more than being told to deny the world his genius) but you could, perhaps, ask. Nicely. Writers have hearts, after all. They’re just buried very, very deep. If that doesn’t work, sending out revenge poetry won’t solve the problem either. The silent, class-act approach is usually best in the long run. Keep your scorned-lover head held high, remind yourself that all is fair in love and poetry, and start dating podiatrists.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

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