The Personal Postmodernist
The current era of poetry is commonly referred to as the Postmodern Era. Postmodern thought is a complex series of philosophical and literary responses to the post World War II changes in world view and the acceleration of society. It isn’t the sort of thing you can explain in a blog post. I’ve taken entire classes on postmodern thought and I still can’t really explain it. The important thing to remember though, is that postmodernism is greatly concerned with challenging the traditional conventions of thought and communication.
One of the poetic movements that rose to prominence in the Postmodern Era is confessional poetry. Confessional poetry is about the writer. The poetry is about the writer’s life and the world around them. While confessional poems often touch on universal themes, they do so from the personal perspective.
The concept of poets writing about their own lives is not a recent development. You can go back through the ages and find poets discussing elements of their lives. What changed in the Postmodern Era was their approach. The language became more direct. The subject matter became more personal and the limits to what poets were willing to discuss evaporated. If a human being does it, chances are there’s a poet out there writing about it. The boundaries of sexuality, drug use, violence and other morality issues were the first and most obvious to fall, but the movement extends far beyond that.
Poets were writing about their role in society. They were writing about all of the things that were changing around them. The rise of commercialism, technology, social awareness and discontent were all subject matter for the postmodern era. In confessional poetry, all of this was related from the personal point of view. Problems weren’t presented as being out in the world at large, they were presented in the way that everyday people faced their problems.
The key to confessional poetry is an honest assessment of the poet’s life and experiences. Confessional poetry is written in the first person. While it can still be poetic and beautiful, it is often more direct and common in its language. It presents the poet’s point of view and relates strongly to the realities of the poet’s world. In many cases, no conclusions are drawn and no philosophy is discussed. Instead, the poet conveys their point by presenting life as they experience it. In other cases, the poet lays their point out directly, telling the reader exactly what they want them to think about things.
Today’s Poetry Assignment
Write a poem that discusses a real moment in your life without discussing its larger meaning or attempting to lead the reader to a conclusion.
Today’s Recommended Poet
Terrance Hayes poetry is both personal and sociological. It comes wrapped in pop culture references and discussion of the world around him. He often mixes very real images with surreal touches.