So I was perusing the poetry section of a bookstore when I came across a book with a title and concept that I, at first, thought was very unusual. It was a collection of poetry called “Poems That Make Grown Women Cry.” Editors selected 100 different actors, authors, activists, etc who were women and asked them to pick a poem that made them cry and write a little forward about the poem and why it emotionally touched them. To be honest, I didn’t recognize many of the names, but I did recognize many of the poems those names picked out, and they are real tear-jerkers. We’ve got some pieces by death-obsessed Emily Dickinson, some by always-good-for-a-sob Sylvia Plath, and appearances by several romantic poets like Coleridge and Byron at their glummest. Yup, congratulations. These poems probably would make me, nominally a “grown woman,” and any other emotionally developed adult ball their eyes out. Who would willingly buy something like that? Well, I did of course.
While I often, at first, think it’s ridiculous that anyone would go to a movie, read a book, or view any other type of art that is supposed to make you go all sad and sobbing, I do also recognize that there’s a whole lot of art meant to exploit the more heart and gut wrenching emotions humans can experience. Okay, so exploit may be a cruel word for books that pull tragedy off well, but with any shoddily written romantic tragedy or cancer/ terminal disease story, it feels exactly like a low, exploitative ploy for our money. Still, though, something about the good stories, the books that connect with the reader in the tenderest spot, make the endeavor worth the risk.
I bought the collection of gut wrenching poems because I did know and love some of the pieces already in it, and the ones I didn’t know seemed promising as well. Reading the intro from each woman for their selected poem allowed me to feel connected to those people through the feelings we would both experience in reading the poem, creating a tangible community that can have a cathartic moment of pain and sorrow together.
I feel the setup for this particular collection is, overall, a great example of what people get out of reading unbelievably sad stories or watching them on TV. Even better, you could go the Game of Thrones route and read someone’s horrible death and then watch the same scene play out on TV. The feels! Even if you don’t have people writing a small passage explaining how sad this moment made them feel, you know that connection is there. Sure, there’s the social media aspect of watching and reading everyone else’s reaction to the same tragedy, but on a more intimate level, there’s the reader and the story itself, created by someone who somehow knew what the inside of your head felt like, feels like, at it’s worst moment. The fact that thousands of other readers say they feel the same way is just icing on the cake of a truly well crafted, emotionally realistic story.
Maybe you yourself have never gotten cancer, dealt with addiction, or had your entire family murdered at a wedding. That doesn’t mean you cannot connect with the story or the other people balling their eyes out over it. This is the best sort of magic a gifted poet or writer can manage. Situations can be strange and foreign to a reader, but the feels can still come through if the characters and their situation is well realized. I’ve never had to worry about dying from consumption or dragon fire, but I’ve read some good enough books wherein that is a very real danger and was able to connect to those unfortunate characters. In that way, writers can teach us to be truly empathetic with people going through struggles that are not our own, which is arguably one of the most important magic tricks a good read can pull off.
As weird as it might seem at first glance, I get the good that comes from intentionally picking up a book or film knowing you’re going to cry your eyes out. Sure, people might think I’m blocking everyone out by sticking my nose in a book, but with a well written book, I’m crying my way to a meaningful connection with people I might never even meet.