Auld Lang Syne

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I've been an AWOL blogger... sorry!

So sorry to have been AWOL a bit. I am not at home, am in Vermont for a long weekend (see blog on Bear Pond and other indie bookstores). But the blog in my head continues daily. I am not without thoughts to share or lessons I need to learn as I type. But really, when I am at someone else's house, can I actually break away to blog? Not so much.

Today is a low key day, both my friend and I lying low and doing our own thing. So I am at the keyboard and ready to chat about poetry. I've been thinking a bit about the issue of so-called "confessional" poetry and wondering what you think about that. This designation of the personal as somehow off limits or "less than" certainly has made the rounds. Some people think the poet should be totally absent in his or her poems. I can't say I agree with this, although I do not want to be dragged in to anyone's personal drama if it is not meaningful in a universal sense. I guess that is the distinction I would make. AND the poet should keep enough of an emotional distance to be able to see and write without artifice. "Accessible" and also discerning is my mantra when writing poems that have a basis in truth, a connection to my own experiences. I want to be close enough to my own life to KNOW, and distant enough to include more than just myself in the activity of the poems.

This brings me to a myth that exists in poetry, experienced by attendees at readings: that every poem is the poet writing about him/herself. Not at all.  Do I need to be IN every poem I write in order to write with authority? I do not. It's called observational research. I cannot tell you how many times people will come up to me after a reading and comment on a poem, thinking I was writing about myself when I really was not. There are more than one voice possible in any poem. I refer to the "inside" voice of the poem or the "outside" voice of the poem. The voice INSIDE is the voice of the character performing or experiencing the action of the poem. The OUTSIDE voice is that of the poet, the observer or chronicler of the action. Sometime these are the same voice. In that case, the poem can be "confessional" in nature. Does that mean this kind of poem is not good, is somehow less adept or successful? No. But clearly, the confessional poem runs the risk of artifice, of self-important posturing. I do not want my writing to be that. But if one is to write from a position of knowledge, particularly on sensitive topics, one must take the risk. Of course the editing/revision process can be a place of removal of the too personal information or tone. We are always able to revise.

So go ahead and write about what you know and/or have experienced. Take the risk. After all, if you do not care deeply about what you write, no one else will either. But look at what you have written and ask: will my readers CARE about this? Will they CONNECT to this? Who is the voice inside and the voice outside the poem? Are those voices one and the same? Is this poem accessible to your reader? Will your reader feel as if he/she had just barged into a private moment? The answers to these questions will help in the revision process.

Confess if you must. Share if you think it will help others. Tell all if all needs telling. But remember that writing is for OTHERS, not just for ourselves. If you are writing for yourself alone, maybe you should just keep a journal.


  1. While I don't write poetry, this one of the biggest reasons I started blogging! I was tired of writing primarily for myself -- through blogging I know that at least a few others are reading it.

  2. Exactly, Julia! We need to know our thoughts reach others, and hopefully make some kind of an impact in the long run. I often think that it is comforting to know others are out there blogging away, sharing and connecting.