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Reinventing the wheel. - Piano wire. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
The richest girl in town.

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Reinventing the wheel. [Tuesday, Mar. 23rd, 2010|12:37 pm]
The richest girl in town.
I fear that term—"confessional"—has cursed us all, and I am amazed by its persistence. It was invented, of course, by M.L. Rosenthal, in a review of Life Studies [by Robert Lowell], and I've never felt it was apt, since Lowell's poems feel less like monologues delivered to a priest, in search of absolution, than they feel like monologues spoken to a psychiatrist, in search of insight. There is a huge difference between the search for insight and the desire to be forgiven. Now, admittedly, there's something deeply paradoxical about writing in public as though one were speaking with the privacy of an analyst, and that deep tug between private and public life is an energizing polarity for Lowell and for the poets he influenced. The term quickly became a handy categorizer for experience that was outside the mainstream; Sexton's illness or Plath's rage were "confessional," whereas reports on more conventionally validated realms of experience were not.

There has been a huge cultural shift since Lowell published Life Studies; the startling stuff of private revelation is now the ho-hum fodder of the daytime talk show, and even they're tired of it. The result is to make us wary of autobiography; we fear that to name the stuff of a life is to make use of the same tired terms. I've had eighteen-year-old students say to me, "I don't want to write confessional poems." And when I said, "What DO you want to do?" the same young poet said, "Well, I want to write about my life."

Obviously I am very influenced by those poets of the Fifties who made the investigation of self a central strand in their work. We are meant, in Berryman, Bishop, Roethke, and Lowell, to name a few, to meet a character who is a version of the poet, a character who's more or less the same person from poem to poem, and to follow that character's path through the difficult realms of experience. I guess I am that sort of poet, but in truth the term "confessional" is hollow and meaningless for me.

-- Mark Doty, in an interview with Poets & Writers in 2003
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: lowhumcrush
2010-03-23 08:26 pm (UTC)
damn, I wish I'd seen this when it first came out
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2010-03-24 04:49 am (UTC)
I remember reading it and going "OH!" a lot.
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[User Picture]From: pretzelcoatl
2010-03-23 08:28 pm (UTC)
I love Mark Doty.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2010-03-24 04:50 am (UTC)
I like his poetry less than I like this interview. :)
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[User Picture]From: marrythebed
2010-03-23 08:56 pm (UTC)

even though I don't like his work

Great quote, thanks for sharing!
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2010-03-24 04:50 am (UTC)

Re: even though I don't like his work

You're welcome.
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[User Picture]From: fengi
2010-03-23 11:32 pm (UTC)
Excellent. When I clicked on the link you so kindly provided, I thought that second paragraph was the key point.

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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2010-03-24 04:51 am (UTC)
It really is.
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[User Picture]From: wordweaverlynn
2010-03-24 12:08 am (UTC)
Oh yes. Yes.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2010-03-24 04:52 am (UTC)
I needed to read this again, all these years later. There's currently yet another round of "YOU'RE JUST EXPLOITING YOUR RAPE" afoot in the land of performance poetry and slam. I think that argument might be to me as tired and played out as poems about rape are to their detractors.
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[User Picture]From: geishaghost
2010-03-26 01:42 am (UTC)
i feel that exhibitionism/voyeurism is sort of the cheap knockoff of true examination and introspection. we're burned out on the former, which only requires a webcam, some vodka and a twitter account--but i don't think we will ever have an excess of true (whatever that is to the writer) self-examination, because that takes wisdom and courage, and those will, unfortunately, never be overly abundant.

i want to write about myself, but i am my own judge and jury and, btw, my life is neither a secret nor a crime--therefore i do not use "confessional." there is something very original sin about that term.
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