The Seclusion of Poetry: Tattoos, Part 2

After my discussion of why my parents don't understand poetry, I asked myself some questions, but I forgot most of them. Here's the one that has lingered:

1. Why is poetry different than prose--specifically, fiction?
The Confessional movement in poetry is important to me as an artist, mostly because I think, as a whole, it has been grossly misunderstood. This question for me relates to Confessionalism specifically because that movement's devaluation seems to be a result of its "documentariness." This exposes a bias held by some critics and scholars that poetry is designed to be, in a sense, fictional. If not fictional, then it should lack discernable author, or that author should appropriate a persona different from him or herself.

I think these assumptions about writing—that poets write in persona, that when talking about our work we should never indicate if an experience is true, or, worse, real—continue today, although contemporary writers feel possibly more compelled to buck this convention via contrary movements such as Language Poetry and such.

Should poetry be fictional, or should it involve itself in the conventions we commonly associate with fiction writing?

And, more interestingly, is fictional narrative poetry a short story in drag?

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What is a poem?

Fuck, man.

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Then you get into questions about prose poetry. Are they short shorts? Should they be narrative, differently narrative, lyric, subversively lyric, etc?

And who gets to own them? Or, like wishbones, can we each get a stick?

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What do we expect from our poems? Right now I'm asking myself a lot of questions about length and precision, trying to write very spare, very lyric, very non-narrative poems. It's difficult for me, but I enjoy the results, when they work.

I expect my poems to be surprising, to be interesting, to make charming small talk with other poems, and to behave appropriately when I leave the room.

Seriously, though, I want my poems—most of all—to be distinctly mine.

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I feel like there is a push-pull in the ether of the poetry world to sequester poetry in its own prison of form/convention, but an equal and opposite force that is willing to sacrifice the form & conventions of poetry and risk blurring edges between poetry and fiction.

Can a poem be a documentary?
Can a short story be lyric?
Why do we have creative non-fictional prose but no creative non-fictional poetry?

Signs keep pointing me to narrative—fiction "requires" it, poetry options it. But such a good wealth of conventional American poetry is decidedly narrative—in my opinion—that I keep wondering where I can find the lyric today. Is the lyric now a mode of narrativizing, or does the lyric—distilled, pure, raw—endure?


  1. I don't remember who said this, or exactly how it was said, so I'll paraphrase as best I can--

    'Prose is about what you put in and poetry is about what you leave out.'

    For me every school of poetry has its charms and I find myself drawn to different schools at different periods. Right now, for example, I'm not so keen on narrative poetry and find myself drawn towards lush, lyrical, imagistic poems. Six months ago I caught the formalist bug and couldn't read enough of the new formalists. Six months from now? Who knows. Good questions.

  2. Hey Charlie!

    It's interesting you mention documentary - I always think the best parts in documentaries are when there's no talking. Just the camera focused on someone's face as it changes with emotion . . . or a scene decaying, drenched in rain, etc. I think poems can do that work, sometimes. I always think about a line from a book - "there's no such thing as autobiography - only art and lies" . . . poems as "true fictions." And I had to laugh a little when you talked about wanting your poems to make charming small talk with other poems. Ack, my poems never do that! They're just as reserved as I am I think (haha)! Anyway, I hope the lyric endures and I think it does. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving ~ see you around sometime!