Writing poetry is confessional, in a way, though the term does need to be reconsidered. Every time we write a poem, even when it is not about us or some inner turmoil or a topic close to our hearts, or even our direct opinion on something seemingly trivial, we are still the one’s doing the writing. We are picking the words that stay and those that go, and we are deciding where to break the lines, if at all. The poet decides how to say what is important enough to be said, and thus has interjected at least some of his or her ‘self’ into the poem, even indirectly. Does that make every poem ‘confessional?” No, not really if we want to use a more strict sense of the word. But as far as the grander scale, poems that show some insight into the ‘self’ of the poet, well, there’s lots of poets who write nothing but inner looking poems. That’s not to say, though, that because a poem is very personal to the poet, that it can’t be applied to the lives of readers. A female poet writing about the female experience can reach out through her own experiences and connect with all sorts of readers, presumably more with some than others. Through ‘confessional’ poems, the reader can feel like they have built a closer connection with the poet. While sometimes what is revealed may feel a touch out of step, a little uncomfortable to the reader, it’s also a reminder that even the great poets were or are human. The reminder can also act as a catalyst for self-evaluation, imagination, and contemplation.
To display is to set something out for review with proper dressings and thought, like at a museum. No one would say that the Mona Lisa is ‘exposed’ she displayed. A streaker at a baseball game is ‘exposed.’ In poetry, a poet can use their work to ‘display’ pieces of their personality or experiences, inner thoughts, and opinions while still maintaining their art. A poet ‘exposing’ themselves would simply dump some informational bits onto a page and call it confessional. The later poem is exposed in two ways: the exposure of the poet (and not in the bringing-light-in-order-to-make-a-picture sort of way) and the exposure of the poem itself. In the exposure of the poem, the meaning changes to be something more like when infants were left in the wild by ancient peoples: left to die. I think that a poem with the information from the poet but none of the art is little more than an exposed baby. The poem will have nothing to protect it, none of the trappings it needs to survive in the wild world of poetry, and thus will perish in short order.
In our readings this week, Anne Sexton’s Wanting to Die stood out. The title suggests that the poem will be an ‘exposure’ poem instead of a ‘display’ poem, but we are pleasantly surprised. Sexton uses her creativity to almost romanticize the act of suicide and to consider the motivations for such. She also illustrates some of the allure and mindset behind those that have attempted, either successfully or not, the act of taking one’s own life. The poem takes death and ties it to several images: the carpenter, a drug, and a woman who waits patiently and lovingly. The carpenter pulls to my mind some connection between death the bible, thus the Christ figures, and creates a tension considering the catholic church’s views on suicide. Death as a drug, mentioned both at “I did not think of my body at needle point” and “but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet/ that even children would look on and smile./ To thrust all that life under your tongue!—“ also presents an interesting comparison. Sexton implies that trying to die can become addictive, as if the failure does little more than wet the appetite for self-death. Suicide as a woman, waiting to give release is probably the most attractive image of death in the poem. Here, the reader is presented with the real reason, the deeper inner reason, why one may want to end their own life: to find relief from that which they find unbearable.
Sarah Ockershausen Delp
Sexton, Anne. “Wanting to Die.” n.d. Poets.org. Web. Jan 2017. <https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/wanting-die>.