Saturday, 18 June 2016

Letting It All Out


Momina Mela wonders if the term "confessional poetry" should still be used:
Confessional poetry has always faced the difficulty of carving out a definition for itself, particularly due to the autobiographical elements attached to it and the various psychological interpretations it issues. The act of confessing depicts a disclosure of ‘sinful’ activities or intentions and brings forth the admittance of one’s guilt, thereby attaching an accusatory semblance to the work of confessional poets. The term itself was coined by M.L Rosenthal in reviewing Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, who immediately realized the problem with using this term as he later made a statement in The New Poets against its usage: ‘It was a term both helpful and too limited, and very possibly the conception of a confessional school has by now done a certain amount of damage.’
Cate Marvin agrees about the damage:
Confessional poetry is, to my mind, more slippery than poems that are sloppily autobiographical; I find the confessional mode much more akin to dramatic monologue. Lowell, Plath, Berryman, et al., were masters of their craft and brilliant manipulators. I’ve been at work on an essay that deals particularly with how female confessional poets were/are received, for their situation was different from their male counterparts. It was enough for male confessional poets to admit a weakness, whether that be depression, alcoholism, etc. Female confessional poets literally disrobed, discussed the female body, and revealed their uglier (angrier) selves. Poets like Plath refused to present their intelligence in a coded fashion. I wish people would think more carefully about what they mean when they use the word “confessional” because it’s been bandied about for some time now as a negative term. And this discredits the work of some of our finest poets from the latter half of the twentieth century.
For Jake Orbison, the term discredits the very art used to make the poetry feel so "naked":
To claim this intense exploration and exposition as a form of nakedness, as Rosenthal did, undermines the project of these poets. It misses the seamless, yet immense artifice required in their work. It ignores the amazing and apparently painful transformation that turns Berryman into his famous avatar, Henry, and Henry into his company of hideous characters. Of course, there are inevitable and immediate differences separating the lyric “I” from the living, breathing poet. “Henry pays no income tax… Henry doesn’t have any bats.” But part of what we find exhilarating and new about this moment is the elegance that renders extremity and grotesqueness as “naked” expression. As if underneath all of us there were a book of confessional poetry, waiting to be exhumed; as if the emotion that these poems track down and lay bare were not those same ones our subconscious spends all day and night avoiding.

1 comment:

mike bond said...

Introspective writing seems like a fitting global term to me. An effort to discover and or disclose through creative writing aspects of the shadow self. These aspects could be the positive more than negative and offer writers an opportunity to live more authentic lives challenging internalized role expectations.