Conventions of Confessional Poetry: A Guide
Confessional poetry is a genre formed in the 1950s. It’s the poetry of self-revelation brought to the forefront by poets like Sylvia Plath and W.D Snodgrass. This kind of poetry serves to reveal an author’s hidden pain and emotions through verses of a most personal nature. Yes, confessional poems tend to be emotionally laden and agonizing. That does not mean yours has to be. By its very nature confessionalism is about truth. Your truth. Each poem is fraught and impulsive and therefore never follows entirely the same formula, so don’t worry if your poetry looks different! As long as you follow these steps, you’re well on your way to becoming a confessionalist!
Edward Byrne, an English professor at Valparaiso University, explains how confessional poets use first-person narration as a “tool to increase a reader’s emotional identification with the writer.”
Furthermore, poets.org identifies confessionalism as the poetry of the “I”. The whole idea is to allow readers to experience a snapshot of moments intimate and private to you. Thus, whatever the poem deals with and whoever you expect to read it always, always write in the first person.
Cold on my narrow cot I lie and in sorrow look through my window-square of black – Sylvia Plath, To a Jilted Lover
This poetry is about you. Your experiences and emotions. Talk from your point of view!
Make It Intimate
The greatest trait of confessional poetry is its ability to be autobiographical. Rather than the poet being separate from the poem’s speaker, they are interchangeable. One and the same. This allows for an abundance of creative freedom, rather than forcibly creating a topic you are the subject. And who doesn’t love talking about themselves!?
Dig deep into your psyche, one of the genre’s defining features is its ability to tackle taboo subjects. Look at Anne Sexton who freely wrote about her depression. Everyone has had times of anguish or emotional hardship, tap into those feelings and use them as creative pointers. Sometimes it’s helpful to expel repressed emotions onto paper!
On the other hand, if you feel uncomfortable doing this then try writing about a scenario or time unique to you. There is an extensive catalog of emotions to work from: guilt, disappointment, love etc. Use these intimate feelings to create confessional verse!
Grab your thesaurus, confessionalism is not minimalism! These poems pack a language punch, using words to enforce emotion. Everything falls back on personal feelings and language is used to emphasize these!
Stasis in darkness. Then the substanceless blue pour of tor and distances. -Sylvia Plath, Ariel
When it comes to personal experience, audiences often need strong imagery in order to understand and empathize. After all, they are reading a subject matter completely unique to a stranger. Excellent use of language helps to create these images! Confessionalists use defined and sharp sensory prompts learned from the imagist school.
Work Off Of Impulse
Confessional poets tend to work off of emotional impulse. When something has induced strong emotional reactions, write about it! Don’t wait until you’ve subsided and come back to it later. Write in the heat of the moment! See what kind of poet you are under stress or during periods of rage or upset!
Additionally, writing can be therapeutic. So next time you feel a burning desire to throw something, throw some words onto paper instead! Use poetry as a way of exorcising those rotten feelings and turn your lows into art!