Tales of a Confessional Poet

Tales of a Confessional Poet

[Image: a black and white photo of poet Sylvia Plath.]

Confessional poetry: Confessional poetry is the poetry of the personal or “I.” This style of writing emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s and is associated with poets such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and W. D. Snodgrass… The confessional poetry of the mid-twentieth century dealt with subject matter that previously had not been openly discussed in American poetry. Private experiences with and feelings about death, trauma, depression and relationships were addressed in this type of poetry, often in an autobiographical manner. Click here to read more about confessional poetry.

I’ve been a confessional poet for years. I find expressing myself through poetry is very helpful for my mental health issues and other problems that I go through in my life. Sometimes it feels good to capture a feeling or a mood on paper and keep it safe there, where it doesn’t have to keep swirling around in my head. With that said, I sometimes experience trauma from re-reading my own writing because some of what I write about is so shocking and dark that even just remembering it is deeply disconcerting.

It’s not easy to be a confessional poet. Some people look down on confessional poets as narcissists that can’t talk about anything other than themselves. But trust me, writing about things other than yourself and your darkest fears and problems is much easier. When I go to read over my own work and edit, I often find myself gravitating to poems that are not so close to me and don’t deal with such weighty issues. It can hardly be described as pleasant to reread a poem you wrote about your deep desire to harm yourself.

I’m featured poet at two different readings this weekend as I’m writing this (in May). Today I’m reading at Poetry on the Square at Port Warwick and tomorrow I’m reading in Norfolk. For Poetry on the Square, I’m reading dating poetry. I’m reading about bad dates, the night a guy kissed me like he was trying to eat my face, a poem from my book about my utter frustration at being unable to fall in love with someone at the right time, and there’s a poem about my recent sexual assault. I’m nervous to read some of these because they get very personal with what happened to me and how I feel about myself and my life.

But tomorrow is going to be far worse. At 5 Points tomorrow I’m going to read my bipolar poetry. While I was writing Into Love and Out Again I was also going through a very serious episode of hypomania and I wrote all about it. I’m going to read about my desire to self-harm, my ponderings about whether or not I should go inpatient, the physical effects of anxiety, my frustrating at not being able to find love, and lots more personal things.

My biggest fear is that I’m going to get in trouble for content. I was told this is a family venue and I made sure that my poetry contains no swearing or sexual content like I was told, but the poems are so dark and unsettling. But, as always, my goal is to combat stigma. Bipolar is still a stigmatized illness that a lot of people don’t understand. I want to put my disease out there in the most vivid way possible so as to let someone without this misfiring brain chemistry see what it’s like to not be so lucky.

In the end, all I can do is put my poetry out there. Every uncomfortable, private bit of it. Maybe people won’t understand it. Maybe people won’t like it. Maybe it will make people feel uneasy. But there’s nothing I can do about that. At any rate, it’s not as if I have a plethora of happy-go-lucky poems that I can pull from. Most of my poetry is not joyous or comforting. But it has a message and it captures my voice.