Thursday, September 22, 2011

The New Confessional: Post-Confession/Conceptual Confession

Two poets I like have interesting things to say about a new kind of confessional poetry. In both cases, they happened to be talking about my poetry, so yeah, it's kind of interesting by default to me, but I like to think these ideas are compelling in a general sense. I cut my teeth (god, I hate expressions) on confessional poetry (Anne Sexton, John Berryman) so I do see myself as being influenced by, or an extension of, this school.

Here's Leigh Stein (I think she wrote this in a comment somewhere; this was quite a while ago but I copied and saved it for future reference):

"To me, 'confessional' writing suggests a vulnerability. It isn’t just telling the truth, reporting the facts. Like watching a striptease vs. going to a nude beach. I haven’t read enough contemporary memoirs by female authors to comment on that vein, but I know in poetry I go for what I would call a post-confessional slant…the truth, but disguised by lots of false threads and humor and smoke and mirrors. I think Ellen Kennedy, Elisa Gabbert, and Dorothea Lasky do this well."

And here's Heather June Gibbons, in a personal email (I hope she won't mind):

"I appreciate the poem's willingness to make potentially unflattering, difficult observations. A kind of new bent on confessionalism, perhaps? But conceptually-driven as opposed to ego-driven, a sort of conceptual confession."

I like these theories. If asked to describe my own work, and its relationship to the self and the truth, I would have cooked up something similar (I'm in there, my ideas, my feelings, my memories, but I only include any element insofar as I find it interesting, so true things that aren't interesting get left out, while interesting things that aren't true take their place), but I wouldn't have thought to characterize this mode as a variation on confessional poetry. Thanks to Leigh and Heather for the catchy branding!


  1. wish i had seen the first quote when i was writing my thesis introduction this past spring. i struggled mightily with how to define my work in relation to confessionalism, and ended up with a really wishy-washy definition of post-confessionalism that made the essay weaker, i think.

    nice new layout!

  2. I like the term confessional sci-fi (because I think I invented it). I like conceptual confession for the same reasons... how about speculative confession? (although that sounds pre-emptive)... yes. yes.

  3. Thanks Carrie! I got bored.

    Ooh, confessional sci-fi. I don't think anything I've written lives up to that term, but I like the sound of it. Which reminds me I need to find a copy of your book.

  4. Reading about poetry on a Sunday morning gives my life meaning.