Considered to be the "mainstream of postmodern poetry" confessional poetry did not hit its peak until the late twentieth
century. Confessional poetry is in direct contrast to the poetry of William Butler Yeats. Yeats poetry, Romantic in nature,
depended on symbols and images to convey his themes. Confessional poetry is very direct and conveys the inner most feelings
of the post modern poets. The twentieth century brought forth many confessional and post confessional poets who appeared to
be embarking on unmarked territory. Confessional poets Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roehtke and post confessional
poet Adreinne Rich all dealt with taboo subjects. Their life held an intensity of personal experience that became the focus
of their work. Confessional poetry does not simply touch upon emotion. Confessional poetry allows emotion...
by: Sylvia Plath
|You do not do, you do not do|
Any more, black shoe
which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters
off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are
a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every
German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau,
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear
beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--
Not God but a swastika
black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a
brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead
of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I
do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.
I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
A Brief Guide to 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. Lowell's book Life Studies was a highly personal account of his life and familial
ties, and had a significant impact on American poetry. Plath and Sexton were both students of Lowell and noted that his work
influenced their own writing.
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. Sexton in particular was interested
in the psychological aspect of poetry, having started writing at the suggestion of her therapist.
poets were not merely recording their emotions on paper; craft and construction were extremely important to their work. While
their treatment of the poetic self may have been groundbreaking and shocking to some readers, these poets maintained a high
level of craftsmanship through their careful attention to and use of prosody.
One of the most well-known poems by a
confessional poet is "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath. Addressed to her father, the poem contains references to the Holocaust
but uses a sing-song rhythm that echoes the nursery rhymes of childhood:
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
confessional poet of this generation was John Berryman. His major work was The Dream Songs, which consists of 385 poems about
a character named Henry and his friend Mr. Bones. Many of the poems contain elements of Berryman's own life and traumas, such
as his father's suicide. Below is an excerpt from "Dream Song 1":
All the world like a woolen lover
did seem on Henry's side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don't see how
open for all the world to see, survived.
The confessional poets of the 1950s and 1960s pioneered a type
of writing that forever changed the landscape of American poetry. The tradition of confessional poetry has been a major influence
on generations of writers and continues to this day; Marie Howe and Sharon Olds are two contemporary poets whose writing largely
draws upon their personal experience.