Identity In Poetry

I’m with Mary Oliver on this one.

I finished reading “Blue Pastures” and thought I’d write about confessional poetry.

I dislike it.

While there is a place for it and there is most definitely a readership for it, I can’t bring myself to be interested in more than a few lines of confessional poetry at a time. At most, I’ve delved into a book during class or when a friend shared it with me. Unless I know the poet personally or have some interest in getting to know them personally, though, I don’t have the energy for it.

It sounds harsh, and I feel like I’m harnessing my inner World War II combat vet Grandfather in this, but I don’t care. I don’t care about what you had for breakfast or what the man said to you on the subway or what your feelings about your feelings feel like when you’re feeling them.

There is so little of anything other than self in a confession that it means next to nothing to me, who is, first of all, not a priest and, secondly, not interested in what you think you are. Leave your diagnosis of your soul to the creator & destroyer. We’re all just along for the ride.

In too many of these poems, there isn’t that all-of-us “I” that Oliver writes with. The author doesn’t fade into the reader. The reader isn’t accepted into the poem. It’s all, Listen to me!

I get that current events and social growth require the stories and introspection of confessional poetry, which is great. Those stories are the few that have actually had an effect on me. There are stories and lives that need to become known in any format possible.  

I just think that any art requires at the outset, at its most intimate level, a sense of ultimate humanity which entertains thinking of an order of heaven rather than earth, other rather than self.

The troubles and wares of the worldly life matter little to the great poets, and if they do, there is something exceptional about them, something that leads them and the reader toward another plane, to something outside the poem.

Whitman always, it seems, is in extasy. Cummings could possibly always be in love or falling in love. Howe is always exploring the big picture.

These poets don’t bring us to their poems to feed us their lives or hear their stories for the sake of being famous or known or special. They guide us into something greater than themselves, greater than ourselves.

The identity of a great poet disappears in the poem. So do their politics.  

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