Many first-time visitors make mention of the subtitle of this blog with regard to spilling my guts to strangers. And spill I do. I’ve talked about how I’m trying to overcome indoctrination in the code of silence, how race has played a part in my life, and my issues with abandonment. Probably what plagues me most right now are my issues surrounding my marriage, with my latest gut spill taking place right before I began the poem-a-day challenge last month.
When I think about the kind of poet I want to be, I immediately think of the so-called confessional poets, particularly Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Yet I also wonder what that means in terms of updating that model. Writing poetry as a teenager, I saw it as an outlet for my feelings, similar to diary entries, and I did not allow many people to read it. When I discovered Plath, I was pleased to find that this type of expression had a name, so to speak.
Over time, of course, confessional poetry–especially that of Plath and Sexton, the poster children for this genre–has met with criticism for being one dimensional or mawkish. (I find it interesting that I haven’t heard such criticism lodged against men confessional poets–such as Robert Lowell, for instance.) To be fair, though, when reading Sexton’s poetry as a body of work, I have felt it to be narrow in scope with a perspective so specific as to be insular. On the other hand, my thought is that Plath was more generous in her imagery and wordplay, and that she illuminates a broader range of experience. In Sexton’s defense and to the credit of both women, however, they opened the door for women to talk about the totality of their lives and not just that which constitutes polite conversation.
So what does that mean for me? I want my poetry to reflect who I am, what I feel, what I’ve experienced, and what I think. At the same time, I want my poetry to be able to stand on its own regardless of anything that has to do with my personal life. Poetry is not simply an emotional outlet for me, although it is that. As a poet who wants to be heard, I want the reader to either share in the moment as I’ve laid it out or else to live in the moment in their own way using the poem as a guidepost. Many, but not all, of my poems relate directly to what I think and feel on a deeply personal level, and the degree of directness varies.
Off the top of my head, I can think of four poems I wrote during NaPoWriMo last month that, in my mind, related to my marriage separation. Of the four poems, the one that probably comes closest to expressing my feelings in a direct manner is The Wedding. This poem was written quickly using a type of shorthand for ideas that needs expansion in subsequent rewrites. But my intention was to use the storyline to reveal my actual thoughts about sexual politics as a destructive force in marriage and the idealistic expectations we have in life–all embodied within the wedding ritual. I talk about how divorce affects social relationships outside of the marriage (e.g., the divying up of friends). I tap into my real-life compulsion to warn the naifs that if they must get married, avoid certain pitfalls. Mostly though, it’s about being sad and disappointed that happily ever after either doesn’t exist or simply didn’t work out for my persona. Or for me, either, for that matter …
So should I even consider myself a confessional poet or else maybe I should just recognize that genre as an influence and be what I am, whatever that is? How do you feel about personal accounts in your writing or in other people’s writing?
[This post was included in the February 2013 edition of the Third Sunday Blog Carnival.]
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2012