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After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography

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In an age of memoir, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction has become increasingly blurred, sparking controversy among writers and readers alike. But what about the autobiographical impulse in poetry? In this groundbreaking collection, some of our best contemporary poets contemplate the legacy of the confessional poets such as Plath, Sexton, and Lowell. They also In an age of memoir, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction has become increasingly blurred, sparking controversy among writers and readers alike. But what about the autobiographical impulse in poetry? In this groundbreaking collection, some of our best contemporary poets contemplate the legacy of the confessional poets such as Plath, Sexton, and Lowell. They also tackle such fiery topics as the nature of authorial responsibility in telling the truth, the focus on issues of self in relation to others and to the natural world, the very essence of craft as transformation, and the role female poets have played in breaking the code of silence. Rich in opinion and theory, After Confession offers the first thorough discussion on the lyric "I"--the boundaries between literal and emotional truth, memory and imagination, person and persona, narcissism and revelation. Contributors: Joan Aleshire Frank Bidart Kimberly Blaeser Joseph Bruchac Marilyn Chin Billy Collins Stephen Dunn Annie Finch Carol Frost Brendan Galvin Pamela Gemin Louise Glück David Graham Kimiko Hahn Judith Harris Andrew Hudgins Colette Inez Yusef Komunyakaa Ted Kooser Sydney Lea William Matthews Thylias Moss Carol Muske-Dukes Sharon Olds Alicia Ostriker Stanley Plumly Claudia Rankine Adrienne Rich Kate Sontag Alan Williamson


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In an age of memoir, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction has become increasingly blurred, sparking controversy among writers and readers alike. But what about the autobiographical impulse in poetry? In this groundbreaking collection, some of our best contemporary poets contemplate the legacy of the confessional poets such as Plath, Sexton, and Lowell. They also In an age of memoir, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction has become increasingly blurred, sparking controversy among writers and readers alike. But what about the autobiographical impulse in poetry? In this groundbreaking collection, some of our best contemporary poets contemplate the legacy of the confessional poets such as Plath, Sexton, and Lowell. They also tackle such fiery topics as the nature of authorial responsibility in telling the truth, the focus on issues of self in relation to others and to the natural world, the very essence of craft as transformation, and the role female poets have played in breaking the code of silence. Rich in opinion and theory, After Confession offers the first thorough discussion on the lyric "I"--the boundaries between literal and emotional truth, memory and imagination, person and persona, narcissism and revelation. Contributors: Joan Aleshire Frank Bidart Kimberly Blaeser Joseph Bruchac Marilyn Chin Billy Collins Stephen Dunn Annie Finch Carol Frost Brendan Galvin Pamela Gemin Louise Glück David Graham Kimiko Hahn Judith Harris Andrew Hudgins Colette Inez Yusef Komunyakaa Ted Kooser Sydney Lea William Matthews Thylias Moss Carol Muske-Dukes Sharon Olds Alicia Ostriker Stanley Plumly Claudia Rankine Adrienne Rich Kate Sontag Alan Williamson

30 review for After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    Essays on confessional poetry, pro and con. The ones I enjoyed were written with clarity such as those by Billy Collins, Colette Inez, Stanley Plumly, Yusef Komunyakaa, Ted Kooser, Stephen Dunn and Andrew Hudgins, poets who addressed the reader directly without academic posturing or obfuscation. An interesting book for those involved in the writing or appreciation of poetry.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Archilocus is called the first lyric singer whose words were copied and preserved. He wrote around 700 BCE, but his lyrics were copied from memory and stored in the library of Alexandria, Egypt. So the transcriptions may be faulty. He was the bastard son of a noble and a slave from a marble-quarrying island, a mercenary soldier, and a singer. Here is a famous poem about his shield: Some Saian mountaineer Struts today with my shield. I threw it down by a bush and ran When the fighting got hot. Life see Archilocus is called the first lyric singer whose words were copied and preserved. He wrote around 700 BCE, but his lyrics were copied from memory and stored in the library of Alexandria, Egypt. So the transcriptions may be faulty. He was the bastard son of a noble and a slave from a marble-quarrying island, a mercenary soldier, and a singer. Here is a famous poem about his shield: Some Saian mountaineer Struts today with my shield. I threw it down by a bush and ran When the fighting got hot. Life seemed somehow more precious. It was a beautiful shield. I know where I can buy another Exactly like it, just as round. Here is a translation about Archilochus's fox and hedgehog: "The fox knows many things, the hedgehog one big one. . . . [O]ne big thing I know how to do--terribly repay with sorrow sorrow what is done to me." His language is called "colloquial, clear, and seemed to fall naturally into rhyme." In an essay by Sydney Lea, he refers to a journal he started (The New England Review) where they believed "Pronouns are not people." It seemed to him that writers often excluded him from the poem's "deeper resonances." Billy Collins in an essay quotes W. H. Auden as saying: "Who the hell cares about Anne Sexton's grandmother?" How do we answer that question? Several essays in the book mention John Berryman. David Graham says, "No one believed it when John Berryman claimed not to be Henry, but I did; or at least, I half believed it." I find that even poems I write about myself are both me and not me. How can that be? That self is so far gone now that I can no longer identify with it at times. What I remember is only a fragment of what may or may not have actually happened. Then a question often asked in this book: Why should anyone else care about my personal story? Or maybe better: As a writer, how do I get others to care? Stanley Plumly asks the fascinating question: What would better answer the question Who am I?: My autobiography or a biography written by someone else? "Reality is not simply there, it must be searched and won."--Paul Celan. Quoted by Claudia Rankine in her essay. I read the Encyclopedia of Philosophy every day that I possibly can. It was published in 1967 and still relevant today. I have been reading about Ethics lately and I wanted to post a summary of a brief passage here. It gets into the individual vs the state. R. M. Hare contends that to "have morality we must have freedom. Specifically, we must have a situation in which each man must solve his own moral problems." (He was stating a "logical condition for the very existence of moral claims.") P. H. Nowell-Smith criticized Hare for having a "far too Protestant conception of moral discourse." By that he meant Hare individualized it too much. Nowell-Smith felt Hare failed to take to heart Wittgenstein's claim: "here, as elsewhere in human discourse, we must have public criteria for what would count as a logically proper moral claim." **F. E. Sparshott said that "Hare's individualism leads him to neglect the fact that a morality, any morality, will necessarily incorporate those rules of conduct that seem necessary for communal living." In other words, in is NOT the case that just ANY universalizable set of prescriptions can constitute a morality or a set of moral judgments. Simone Weil wrote "a fixed point of view is the root of all injustice." Yusef Komunyakaa speaks of asking for Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. The librarian told him it was behind the desk and had to be signed out. I remember a similar experience when I searched for Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It had a red letter A on it for Adult. I was not allowed to sign it out because I was under 18. I gobbled it up as soon as I could find a copy. That glove with the Vaseline in it rattled my imagination. Emily Dickinson's great line "Tell all the truth / But tell it slant" appears in a few of the essays. Did Emily love Charles Wadsworth and Samuel Bowles? William Gass: "Autobiography is a life writing its life." Tomas Tranströmer: "Our earliest experiences are for the most part inaccessible. Retellings, memories of memories, reconstructions based on moods that suddenly flare into life." In Kate Sontag's essay, she quotes her mother: "Write about us all you want, but make sure you write with love." And also a friend who said: "Make us look pretty as a picture." Elizabeth Bishop felt Robert Lowell violated a trust when he used personal letters: "But art just isn't worth that much." Would you use personal letters? Sontag points out correctly that not all first-person poems are necessarily autobiographical. The boundary between fact and fiction can blur. As Philip Levine said, "Sisters walk in and out of my poems, but I don't have any sisters. . . . Why be yourself if you can be somebody interesting? Imagine a life. Imagine being something other than what you are." Or this quote by Larry Levis: "The more I lie, the closer I get to the emotional truth." Or David Yezzi: "All poets use their lives for poetry, but not all lives are used similarly." Robin Hemley wrote: "I often think the true nonconsensual participant in one's writing is some part of oneself that resists being revealed, like some secret inner personality." Ted Kooser complains about "lying for the sake of making poems." He claims "poets exploit the trust a reader has in the truth of lyric poetry in order to gather undeserved sympathy to one's self." Kooser speaks of a poem where a mother cuts a child in a drunken rage. He asks the author if that really happened. She answered: "No, it was an innocent accident. I just thought my version would make a better poem." This upset Kooser because the child's mother was libeled. Did we really NEED the lie? Kooser always trusted the "I" of Walt Whitman. He trusts Mary Oliver and Stanley Kunitz. He is okay with conventional poems like Shakespeare's sonnets. And with "flights of fancy." He has no problem with "persona poems." He hopes they are identified as such for the reader. Kooser's main concern is "autobiographical poems" that "affect the reader's feelings about the poet." For an example, Kooser talks about a woman who wrote about having a disabled son. It was a lie. Readers felt "cheated and deceived." Weldon Kees wrote "To My Daughter" about "my daughter." Last two lines he admits to having no daughter. Kooser's okay with that. Is this all a part of a world now dealing with "fake news"? And "climate change denial"? A world where every opinion is considered valid? Kooser follows poet Bob King's test: Ask if the poet gets any sympathy or some extraliterary credit from the lie. Carol Frost when asked about a hunting poem she wrote: "Am I really a hunter? None of your damn business!" Carol Frost speaks of John Berryman's Dream Song #1. What do we make of Berryman? Is he writing autobiography? Carol Frost calls it "several sides of his psyche." Berryman himself once said, "Henry both is and isn't me." Actually I said the same thing about my Jimmy character. Not that I should be mentioned in the same breath as Berryman. Berryman's father's suspicious death was ruled a suicide, but Berryman wondered if his mother and her lover "put something over on the coroner." Ms. Frost also mentions Wordsworth's Lucy poems, Thomas Hardy's "Wessex Heights," Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour," Randall Jarrell's "A Man Meets a Woman on the Street," W. D. Snodgrass's "Heart's Needle," and Frank O'Hara's "Why I Am Not a Painter." Ms. Frost also says, "All poetry is autobiographical in its revelations of the motions a mind makes." Stephen Dunn quotes Robert Frost: "We shall be known by the delicacy of where we stop short." So Dunn says: "What we choose not to do in a poem, for example, may reveal as much about us as what we choose to do. This seems particularly true if our subject involves family. . . . our fidelity to people we know is always complicated to our fidelity to the poem and the language we find ourselves using, not to mention to truth itself." Dunn asks questions: "Why are we writing about this particular subject in the first place? Certainly we have the entire world of experience to draw from. Why this poem about brother or mother? Why now? And what must such a poem do to involve strangers in what's personal to us? . . . a worthy poem should suggest some answers to those questions" Dunn suggests that "most poems about family should be put in a locked cabinet, like diaries, kept, if kept at all, as private data for our children to find after we're dead. Some family poems, of course, . . . deserve the light of day." He gives examples from Plath and Roethke. Dunn writes about his mother showing him her breasts upon his request in "The Routine Things Around the House." He says it was not only a poem about his mother "showing grace under pressure" but about "limits" because she buttoned up after showing her breasts to him. So he learned the meaning of Robert Frost's "stopping short." Andrew Hudgins speaks of his The Glass Hammer: "I say, yes, that is what my childhood means, and, yes, that is how it felt. And, to make those two affirmations, I accept, however uneasily, the lies I had to tell." Brendan Galvin claims that Mark Strand defended his choice of poetry as a vocation by reading Wallace Stevens's "The Idea of Order at Key West" to his mother. Galvin quotes Robert Graves from The White Goddess: "Fact is not truth, but a poet who willfully defies fact cannot achieve truth." Galvin claims "There are no forbidden topics, only ineffectual ways of dealing with them." Galvin quotes Edward Abbey: "We are none of us good enough for the world we have and yet we dream of heaven." Galvin also quotes Yeats: poems "bring the soul of man to God." And Richard Wilbur: "the splendor of mere being." And the Cape Cod carpenter's rule of thumb: "Mother Nature bats last." Ernest Hemingway: "Art is a lie that tells the truth." Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty by Jane Mead What struck me first was their panic. Some were pulled by the wind from moving to the ends of the stacked cages, some had their heads blown through the bars— and could not get them in again. Some hung there like that—dead— their own feathers blowing, clotting in their faces. Then I saw the one that made me slow some— I lingered there beside her for five miles. She had pushed her head through the space between bars—to get a better view. She had the look of a dog in the back of a pickup, that eager look of a dog who knows she's being taken along. She craned her neck. She looked around, watched me, then strained to see over the car—strained to see what happened beyond. That is the chicken I want to be. "My being is defined in ancestral voices."--N. Scott Momaday, In the Presence of the Sun. Muriel Rukeyser: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." Seventeenth century poet Anne Killigrew felt the need to write a poem called "Upon the Saying That My Verses Were Made by Another." Obviously, some thought a man must have written them. Simone de Beauvoir on women of the new age: "she is a helicopter and she is a bird." Rainer Maria Rilke: "Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    A selection.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeannine

    A great collection of essays for writers considering the problem of post-confessional poetry.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    A fascinating collection of essays about autobiographical poetry.

  6. 5 out of 5

    sarah louise

    Disappointing so far. Was hoping for insight and meaning-making, am getting dry analysis/lit reviews.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gary McDowell

    Recent amazon purchase.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Tait

    Exceptional essays looking at autobiographic poetry. The ins and outs, pros and cons - a look every which way from a variety of esteemed poets. A learning experience as well as a reading experience.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jessie McMains

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lacie

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rusty

  12. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  13. 4 out of 5

    T-mere

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Perkins

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tori

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jenni

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter Danbury

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cassidy

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erica

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  23. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jude Brigley

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris Schaeffer

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carla Criscuolo

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nikkita

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