Examining gothic culture in a modern context
Admit it, you’ve been through an emo phase. You can imagine yourself right now back in middle school, wearing black clothes, stomping down the hall in your matching combat boots, holding your iPod, blasting My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” into your ears, as you planned on logging into MySpace later to write another poem about your “tortured soul.”
Despite growing out of that phase (to your mom’s relief), your poetry, as well as most poetry, has not. Why is poetry like this? Do we intend this right when we put pen to paper, or do our emotions get the better of us and we spill our guts? Poems seem to have this repeating “emo theme,” that gloriously continues no matter if the poet is an expert or amateur.
To try and solve this mystery, I interviewed three people with knowledge on poetry, or just emo culture in general.
Shandi Putzbach, peer from high school who never grew out of her emo phase (Emo Enthusiast™)
Mr. Matt Lauer, sixth grade English teacher (jealous that he wasn’t emo)
Mr. Thomas Gorman, twelfth grade AP Lit teacher (never emo, but is interested in it)
Before we can really dive into the liquid eyeliner, we must first ask: how would you define emo?
SP: The G Note from “Welcome to the Black Parade”.
Me: Could you elaborate?
SP: If you look up the definition of “emo” that’s what you will find.
TG: I’m not too familiar with it.
ML: That’s a good question. I would define emo as a way of thinking independently and not worrying about what others think.
The varying answers were surprising, and they only got more interesting as we made our descent down the rabbit hole. Obviously, now it was time to ask the million-dollar question: Why is poetry emo?
SP: If you go back into history of poetry, like with Edgar Allan Poe, you’ll find a lot of similarities between that and emo.
Me: Can you name some similarities?
SP: “The Raven” imagery and prose remind me of My Chemical Romance’s “Helena”.
TG: I think poetry can be poetry for it allows us to get into the crevices of human nature; it allows us to see [what is] disturbing yet revealing about the human condition.
ML: The best poets are people that would write and [not] care about what people [think]. [Poets] are writing for themselves and not for anyone else which I think is cool. When you write poetry, you are independently writing something to make yourself or someone else feel better. It’s free thinking and emotion, and not trying to please others.
Despite all agreeing that poetry can be emo, I wondered if poetry can be classified as that “genre.”
Me: So, you believe that poetry can be classified as emo?
SP: Oh, yeah, for sure. Even if it’s a happy poem, you can still see it as emo.
TG: I absolutely do. Poems can be classified that way. Various poets like Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, and others can be considered emo. But there are poets that are not known for the genre but are known to explore the depth of the human condition as well. Writers like Emily Bronte, who is known as a novelist, is also an accomplished poet who explores gothic ideas through her poetry.
ML: Absolutely. I would say, by the way, it’s independent thinking, and the best poetry would be in the realm of not thinking about others.
When asked if they could think of any poets/poems that expressed emo, I soon figured out that Edgar Allan Poe was highly favored and could be considered the king of emo influence due to his writing’s dark themes.
Me: Obviously you mentioned Edgar Allan Poe. Can you name any others?
SP: Shakespeare. Most of his writings were about death.
Me: Do you favor them or not?
SP: Yes. Writings about death and sadness are more interesting.
Me: Are you saying that people prefer tragedy over happiness? How come?
SP: People can relate more to the sad poems than the happy poems.
TG: I absolutely favor them. I think emo/gothic is a very important genre to explore because it’s through the exploration of darkness that people often can see the light in things.
ML: I would say Edgar Allen Poe. He wrote just to get stuff out, and most of his stuff wasn’t even read until he was dead. His writing connects to kids and helps them get their emotions out.
It was now time to expose those poorly-dyed roots and get personal: Did you go through an emo phase? Did you write any emo poetry?
SP: I’m currently in my emo phase.
Me: How’s that working out?
SP: It’s depressing. Twenty One Pilots is still on hiatus, My Chemical Romance isn’t back together, and my crops aren’t thriving.
Me: Did you write any emo poetry?
SP: Yes. It wasn’t really poetry; it was a list of things that made me sad or mad. Mind you, I was in day care.
TG: Yes, I did go through an emo phase. My emo phase took place in my junior/senior year of high school. The emo phase I was going through was the typical teenage angst where I would explore gothic topics to find out who I was. I think most people go through this phase because it’s a necessary part in developing who you are as a human being. If we don’t question things and the world around us then how in the world will we ever be prepared to develop ourselves, our ideas, and ultimately make an impact?
ML: I did not go through an emo phase, and I did not write any poetry myself until I was in college. I was friends with people who were considered to be emo, and I liked how they didn’t care what people thought. I was a little jealous because of the way they thought. I wrote stupid fluffy poetry in college.
If poetry can be emo, then it makes sense to question if emo music can be considered poetry. The dark themes, everlasting sadness, the screams of pity and regret, among other emo things. With there blaring similarities, can this genre of music be called poetry?
SP: Yes. “Northern Downpour” from Panic! At the Disco is one of the most well-known examples. There is a lot of meaning and emotion behind that song.
Me: Can you name any others?
SP: “Save Rock and Roll” by Fall Out Boy. The one lyric is: “I cried tears you’ll never see.” Some of the more depressing emo songs can make everyone feel a certain type of way. And just like poetry, this music can be interpreted in different ways.
TG: Absolutely. Music is poetry. In fact, I use emo/gothic music to correlate with pieces of literature that I read. For example, playing Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” to compare with Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights character Heathcliff.
ML: Most forms of music can be considered poetry, depending on what you are listening too, and emo music could be [poetry], yeah. It helps a lot of people and kids because they’re feeling the same way. They aren’t worried about making hits on YouTube and breaking records.
Since this underground phenomenon isn’t going away anytime soon, why is emo poetry so popular? Is it more popular than “non-emo” poetry?
SP: Like I said in the beginning, everyone can relate to it. Everyone has been sad at one point or another. It’s not more popular because I feel like there’s enough sadness in the world to the point where people don’t want to read about it.
TG: I think [emo culture is] popular because it helps people explore themselves. I don’t think it’s more popular, but I do think it’s important. It helps people discover who they are and who they want to be. It provides a roadmap in how to get there.
ML: If you walked into high school, there are so many kids that have emotions they need to get out, and some kids are probably writing emo poetry and don’t even know it. There’s so much pressure on people nowadays, and it’s a good outlet for them.
And, of course, the two most important questions must be asked. They are the epitome of emo after all…
Will you stop wearing black when they make a darker color?
SP: I definitely won’t because you must stay true to yourself. All emos started this way – we were all born with guyliner and MCR shirts.
TG: No. I’m always going to wear black. I think black symbolizes classic ideas, and because I don’t care how dark it goes, I’m sticking to it.
ML: I do enjoy wearing black. Sure, I would wear darker colors if they made them.
Do you think My Chemical Romance will get back together?
SP: I would love to say yes, but in all honesty, the answer would be no because it’s the best thing for their mental health. As an emo, you care about your band more than anything else.
TG: Old guy doesn’t know!
ML: I guess we can all only hope so.
Dariene Seifert is a first-year Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media major whose goth icon is Avril Lavigne. You can reach them at email@example.com.