Kathleen Rooney wonders if it's time to revise our default notion of poetry as a species of nonfiction.
What if we found out that Wilfred Owen hadn’t actually fought in World War I? Would his condemnation of “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori” be any less moving if we did not know that he was killed at the age of 25 in November 1918, just one week before the Armistice? Or what if we found out that the collection Black Aperture, about the author’s brother’s suicide, a finalist for the National Book Award, was totally made up and that Matt Rasmussen was an only child who not only didn’t have a brother who killed himself, but didn’t have a brother at all? Would it matter if Patricia Lockwood, author of the phenomenal viral poem “Rape Joke,” had not been raped? In short, if we are angered, confused, or disappointed upon discovering that a poem we took as autobiographical is not, then whose liability is that? If we feel as though we’ve somehow been cheated, is that on us? I’d argue that it probably is. Every text has a narrator or speaker, and we assume at our peril that any given “I” either is the narrator or is even closely associated with some poetic persona the narrator is crafting as an alter ego.