I’d like to tell you a story about a poem.
The main character of my novel, Manifestation, is a girl named Gabby Palladino. Gabby is a poet, and I study a lot of poetry as part of her character development. I’ve also written a number of in-character poems for Gabby that are based on her experiences in the novel. I’ve mentioned on the blog before that some of these poems have been published, and you can read a few online (“Shadow,” “Peace,” and “I Think I Felt My Soul Today” are all on the blog). The one you see below is one of the first poems I wrote, long before Manifestation was ever published. It represents a rather dark period in Gabby’s life, where her thoughts turn to mortal sins.
You should read the poem first, before I tell you about the curious consequences it brought. Keep in mind that this poem represents the emotional state of Gabriella Palladino after the tragic events she lived through in Manifestation. In other words, it’s based on a fictional character’s reaction to fictional events.
“Prayer of Life”
Dearest Lord, I beg you please
As I pray, here on my knees
Forgive my sins, and my mistake
Forgive the life I had to take
Forgive my heart, forgive my soul
And know it never was my goal
To take a life with my own hand
Oh please, Lord, don’t let me be damned
I used to think my soul you’d keep
But now my sins may run too deep
To earn forgiveness. What’s the cost?
Is my soul already lost?
Please God don’t let it be true
Too late to come back to you
Must I wander, on my own?
My soul forgotten, my sins unknown?
Please God, I don’t want to die
Without ever knowing why
This curse, this power came to me
Oh, when will cruel fate let me be?
Tortured, lost, and all alone
But the choices were my own
To leave, to live and never know
What fate my future might next show
Please, God, it’s to you I pray
I just don’t know what else to say
My tears fall down upon my bed
My own blood I would gladly shed
But that’s the greatest sin of all
To take my own life, I would fall
From whatever grace I’ve left
My soul, the devil’s final theft
But damnation, I deserve
So if I can just find the nerve
I may just do it anyway
I may just do it anyway…
As with “Shadow,” “Peace,” and a few others, this poem was submitted one year to Avant, the Rowan University literary magazine. I was hoping to get the poem individually published before I included it in a collection of Gabby’s poetry for Arcana Revived. It was rejected, but did receive a rather unique bit of feedback. Here is an email I received after this poem was submitted for review:
I am the emergency on-call counselor this weekend for Rowan’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center. I am contacting you because of the poem you submitted to Avant, which has worried a number of people. I have read it over as well, and am also very concerned about you and would like to speak with you as soon as you get this email.
Please call me at ***-***-**** no matter what time you get this message.
I removed the therapist’s name for confidentiality purposes.
When I received this email, I cracked up laughing. The poem was, quite obviously, intended to have the sound of a suicide note. I was drawing upon the tragic events of Gabby’s life in order to make it sound as dark as possible. Apparently, it was SO dark that someone at the literary magazine thought that I, the author, was suicidal!
I cleared it all up by explaining to both the psychologist and the literary magazine staff that the poem was written entirely from the fictional perspective of a character in my novel. Yet I couldn’t stop cracking up, and the reaction gave me quite a sense of pride. Despite the fact that it had been rejected for publication, it clearly had an impact on the people that read it. It was dark enough to make those who read it fear for my personal safety. I consider this a huge compliment, since that’s exactly the feeling I want to invoke in the reader . . . as long as it’s Gabby, not me, that they’re worried for. She was most definitely suicidal at the time of the poem, and I’m glad that a professional therapist thought that I expressed that realistically.
One of the most important parts in writing a novel is making the reader care about your characters. It’s an issue that I struggle with constantly. In order for this novel to work, the reader must care about Gabby and what happens to her. One of the reasons I’ve written her in-character poems is to draw upon the reader’s emotions, with the hope of forming an empathetic connection between Gabby and the reader. It’s my hope that if a poem like this can draw such a profound response, then maybe the entire novel will have the strong emotional impact I’m striving for.
Of course, if you want to learn what Gabby went through to put her in this frame of mind, well, that’s another story.
(This post was edited and updated on 10-27-14.)
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