At a reading/panel discussion of After Shocks poets at the South Carolina Book Festival last Saturday that question in the headline above was posed by a 22-year-old audience member named Zack. The responses of the panelists could be summed up this way: Yes, in the short term, it does hurt, but in the long-term it helps healing, and not only for the poet, but hopefully for readers, too.
The After Shocks contributors on the panel that I moderated at the Columbia-based festival were Laurel Blossom, Clinton B. Campbell, Susan Meyers, Marjory Wentworth, and Ed Madden. In answering this perceptive question, the panelists brought up issues of buried grief or ignored addiction problems or post-traumatic stresses and disorders that when extracted by the poet's pen cause wounds to re-open, or open for the first time if they've been buried from the very beginning. And thus the act of writing--a self-examination--may cause great pain. We all seemed to agree that in the long-run, we were better off for the writing.
Recovery from a life-shattering event like the death of a beloved family member or expriences in war, from exile, acts of bigotry, illness or injury, acknowleding and dealing with addictions--recovery from these events doesn't truly end--ever. There is no closure. There is no point where you can say "I'm totally healed." These events become something that we learn to live with, like a scar, something we wear, like a medal. We are marked forever, though over time, the pain diminishes, and in the long-term, writing helps us move down that asymptotic curve.