Imagine all of the self-obsessed, world-is-going-to-end-tomorrow-and-I'm-glad, Sylvia-Plath-was-right-to-commit-suicide poetry you wrote as a teenager condensed into a single publication and you'll understand the point of The Pain Tree. Originally a black-and-white 'zine designed to celebrate the shallow depths of teenage angst poems, The Pain Tree has now been published as a book for the world to wonder at.
Assembling Adolescent Anxieties
Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd both edited and illustrated this book. They obviously care a great deal about the morose obsessions of teenagers, and their care shows through in the illustrations, which are at once awkward and artful.
The same can sometimes be said of the poems included in this work, all of which were actually written by teenagers. Many of them are actually poetic, using interesting metaphors to describe the pain of their authors. On the other hand, some of the poems are clumsy even by adolescent standards. Many commit the common error of valuing rhyme over meaning. Others mistake the art of poetry with the word processing task of splitting narrative text into separate lines.
Giving Depressed Teenagers a Break
The Pain Tree is nonetheless a valuable work. Although the quality of writing is uneven, the poems are a strikingly accurate representation of the insecurities of the adolescent mind. Even though they'd never admit it themselves, the fact is that adolescents need a lot of help from adults. Giving adolescents a place to publish poems that describe their feelings in their own words won't end their pain, but it does help to channel that pain into positive creativity.
Heck, I can remember writing poetry much worse than anything included in this book. Laugh, snicker, even moan, but don't forget that you too were once a painfully awkward teenager, hated by everyone that mattered and woefully misunderstood. The editors of The Pain Tree recognize the potential of adolescence, even its gawky disguise. For that alone, this book deserves attention and praise.