Around 1989 or 1990 I met a man who killed another man, cut his body into manageable pieces with a chain saw, placed the pieces into a 55 gallon drum, filled it with cement, and dumped it into a pond in Indiana. Apparently it was a power struggle in a local motorcycle gang. I was the booking officer at the Marion County lockup when he turned himself in 17 years after the act. He told the detectives that his conscience had gotten the better of him.
But his confession was dry, factual, and disconnected, as though he was reading from a book just pulled from the shelf. I have met a lot of criminals and people who have done some things so heinous most would consider impossible to do…. But this fellow who feared for his own soul, (I think, more so than the poor bastard they found in the barrel/pond days later), stuck with me.
“Confessional Poetry” was first coined by a writer who was studying Robert Lowell’s “Poetry as Confession.” The term was used to signify poetry written as confession, or personal concessions of shame. Ted Hughes’ publisher later further defined “Confessional Poetry” as a disconnect from emotion when Ted’s wife, Sylvia Plath, began experimenting with it. I’ve read a lot of
sylvia’s poetry and agree that there is a great disconnect with her view. Another confessional poet that I am more familiar with is Anne Sexton, whose writings I find alive, stark, colorful, wrenching….. I’ve often felt if Picasso were a poet, he would be Anne Sexton.
Anyway, I don’t think confessional poetry is anything to be ashamed of. Anne and Sylvia wrote about things in a time in our history that many would have been ashamed of, though. Thoughts of suicide, for example, is something you wouldn’t have told your neighbors about in the 1950s or 60s. Nor that one was seeking medical attention for mental health problems.
Unfortunately both of the writers, Anne and Sylvia, were probably suffering from deep clinical depression during most of their adult lives, which makes the whole area of confessional poetry lean toward that sort of aura. (Since these two women are probably the most famous poets that used confessional poetry.) But it truly isn’t just associated with mental health or suicide. In my opinion confessional poetry is best described as a complete disconnect from human emotion that most would find odd. “I ran over a nest of baby bunnies with the lawnmower today. I didn’t see them burrowed there. It was odd to see their little feet thump, thump, thumping in the hole as it slowly filled with blood from their missing heads. I wondered how long they would – could – thump, splash, thump without their heads.” That’s disconnect! No mention of the bunnies feelings, or that of their mother who must be off in the taller grasses watching….
So hence the gentleman who killed the reigning president of his motorcycle club, (in a most entirely grisly way,) in order that he might become president – which he did. (Not sure if it’s important to know that the dead man was his brother-in-law.) Anyway, to me at least, that is disconnect.
But again, murder is not necessarily the main focus of disconnect either. It is just precarious that murder is something most of us would be intrinsically incapable of doing…… so the disconnect would be phenomenally huge there…..
Anyway, a fellow poet recently wrote a poem about death that was starkly disconnected from emotion and it struck me to be so similar to Anne’s writings. I told this poet that her writings reminded me of Anne’s writing and it seems to me that she took offense to that. It was intended as a compliment though, because if someone had told me that my own poetry resembled Anne Sexton’s my feet would not have touched the ground for a week. But that’s the beauty of life…. The regard to feel and believe as we each wish.
I want to repeat something I have believed all of my life: the poet does not define his poetry, as in all art – the viewer does. This confessional poem was written in honor of my fellow poet, who I inadvertently insulted and dearly apologize for.
A Poem of Death
A painting hangs over a hole in the wall.
People will come and say,
Oh, a beautiful painting today.
Its flowerful colors wash us away.
We wish, We hope, We long to be,
a field so green as its majesty,
a sky so blue as its melody….
But never to see the travesty….
(Behind the painting.)
They will laugh, and drink, and merrily
sing their songs so happily.
Another round for happy clowns,
and the things they can not see.
Their party will be long and last into night,
Their blissful ignorance never reaching light.
Another smile, another cheer,
A good “Bravo!” and “Here, Here!”
Reaching for another beer,
Hoping the painting will hang another year…..
Today I died,
and did not say goodbye.
But I whispered my reasons why –
into the hole in the wall.
And it will only be heard by the herd, one and all,
Whence that painting might rot and fall.
And my friends, that painting WILL rot and fall.
Beware thee, the whispered mystery, of Death’s sweet call.
For it lurks in every wall….
Yours, and yours, and yours…..
(paint your painting now)