Kevin Prufer, On Sentimentality & Complexity

prufer1. Sentimentality?

My friend Joy Katz asked me to write a short article about sentimentality for a print symposium.  Sentimentality, she suggested over the phone, was one of those words we poets use frequently, mostly to denigrate poems we find icky or cloying.  Yet no one we knew of had come up with a completely adequate definition of the term, nor was it clear to us where a work crossed the line from emotional to cloyingly emotional.  Had our—and by “our” we now meant “our generation of poets” —aversion to sentimentality grown to include a deep suspicion of all strong emotional expression in poetry?  If so, where did that aversion come from? And did we have a double standard—that is, were we willing to allow for powerful emotional expression in the works of Wordsworth or Blake or Shakespeare, but not in the works of living writers?  Did we condemn our generation of writers for trying to achieve the very thing we admired in the work of other, long-dead poets?

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