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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Confessional Poetry: Can We Move On?

Don't misunderstand me...I love reading all the confessional poets.

And I do love the intimacy of reading a poem--any poem--and feeling like the poet of the poem--not just the speaker of the poem--is sitting down with me at my kitchen table, having a cup of coffee with me when suddenly, the poet--much to my surprise and delight-- positively bursts into what can only be described as secular public prayer.  A literary aria.

It's compelling, for sure. A private "theatre of the mind," for sure.  And a spurious connection, for sure. And--oh-- it feels so real, so comforting.

I am saying there is a place for that "Ear-Against-the-Door...Yes, Reader-I'm-Talking-to-You" kind of poetry. And that it can be a glorious experience. And it can be the stuff of great poetry.

But--and let's be honest now, ok?---let's not have any hurt feelings or whining about this, ok?--haven't we just about had enough of the particular kind of poetry which is the product of what I have termed --and I'm being nice with this--"literary hemophiliacs"?

Isn't anyone else kind of tired of the poets who bleed onto the page with endless interior monologues and intimate details and wicked stories that make you cringe? The "Poor-Me-Little-Match-Book-Girl--No-One-Has-(Or-For-That-Matter-Ever-Will)-Suffer-Like-Me" kind of poetry. Which would be considered, in almost any other venue--well let's just come right out and say it, shall we?--uninteresting.  Except for its  tabloid gossip quality, that is.

It would appear the "Shock-Jock" poetry of our times replaced a former age's excess of poetic sentimentality.

Look, all I'm saying is that there is a line that no one seems to want to draw--poet, reader or publisher.  As far as I can tell, the line between genuinely intimate poetry and "look-at-me! look-at-me!" narcissistic poetry doesn't get discussed.

In fact, in professional criticism of contemporary poetry, that there may be a line at all is rarely--if ever--discussed.

The poetry workshop taught us that "telling us everything there is to tell" does not automatically qualify a piece of writing as "a poem." That the best confessional poets did edit. And they knew what not to say as well as what to say.

I have not read discussions which explore the kind of Come Hither poetry, the sole purpose of which is literary exhibitionism. 

The craft of poetry embraces many different ways to a make a poem live.

Perhaps  poetry for the 21st century should come out of--come back to--the imagination.

Perhaps we should move on and--as Ezra Pound once told us--try something new.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your site by accident while looking for publishers who would be interested in " confessional poetry"
I guess that is the poetry I write, but for me I want those that are hurt, broken, alone, and afraid to know they are not alone. That if I can survive everything that I have gone through, so can they. To learn to have faith and hope.
It's just in order for them to fully grasp that they will make it, I need to tell my story. :/
i do understand what you are stating, but what if you just want to help?

Lois Roma-Deeley said...

Hi and thanks for writing.

There are many confessional poems and confessional poets that I love--indeed that I, as a writer and as a human being, can not live without.

And I love poetry, in general, because it makes me feel less alone in the world. It comforts me.

All I was suggesting in this post is that confessional poetry is not the only kind of poetry there is or should be. And I see in my classes that many students--serious writers and devoted readers--don't seem to know that.

So..yes...please write!...we need your story...and we need your faith and hope!