Poetry: The Confessional

by Editors


The Confessional

By January Gill O’Neil

For more than a year, I’ve posted a series on my blog called Confession Tuesday. I wanted to dig deep and really discuss the small things, poetic and nonpoetic, happening in my life. Somehow it caught on, and I’ve kept it going as a regular feature on my Poet Mom blog.

Poets have a keen sense of mining deep into their everyday lives for material for their poems. When I consider the personal as subject matter for our work, I think of the opening lines of Stephen Dunn’s poem “The Routine Things Around the House”:

When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable
yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.

Every poem is a confession.

Through the years, however, confessional poetry has received a bad rap. While the Beats were reinventing language in the late ’50s and early ’60s, poets such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and W.D. Snodgrass removed all poetic artifice to reach a more personal, intimate level of verse. By its nature, poetry is personal. Yet, the word “confessional” has always been code for “women’s poetry,” as if the poetry by, for, and about woman is any less valid, dynamic, or revelatory. Simply not true. When it’s done right and done well, confessional poetry is personal and universal, speaking to the broader spectrum of the human condition.

Under the header of Confession Tuesday, I’ve admitted how my desire to write often overrides my daily duties, such as work, family, and household chores. I’ve discovered that these posts are a tool to work out poems before I get to the page. My confessional also has given me the license to praise or rant about topics important to me regarding the poetry community. For instance, I’ve posted about the myth of the work-life balance for a writer (read: there’s no such thing. You just write, then deal with the rest.). I’ve discussed, ad nauseam, how I much I want to be U.S. Poet Laureate someday (It could happen!). And recently, I came clean about how I feel poets should market their poetry, which is taboo in most (academic) poetry circles.

Through the process of “confessing,” I have been able to work out issues before I get to the page, leaving me available to navigate the open waters of thought.

As one who writes in the confessional vein, I understand that to keep my work fresh and interesting, I must strive for clear, crisp language that expands upon my point of view. But there’s also another aspect I can’t neglect. Admittedly, since we’re talking about confessions, it’s just fun to let loose! A confession is an open invitation to say what’s really on your mind in a safe space.

So, consider Bread and Circus a safe space. This is your chance to let loose. What are your poetry confessions? What are your poetry likes and dislikes? Tell us something that you wouldn’t normally say in polite poetry circles. I bet you’ll find that what might seem outlandish or trite to you is more universal than you think.


January Gill O’Neil‘s first book of poems, Underlife, will be published in November 2009 by CavanKerry Press. Visit her at the Poet Mom blog.


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