My Name is Darkness: Confessional Poetry by Ellie Monk Group A




In her essay ‘”My Name Is Darkness”: The Poetry of Self-Definition’, Gilbert explores how confessional poets seek for self-definition. Female confessional poets contrast with male poets because they cannot easily classify herself and her problems. The ultimate goal of those poets is to achieve self-definition, or self-knowledge, as Plath wrote ‘I Have a self to recover’[1]. Gilbert said that the female poet must accept that she is female, which is mythologised, and that she is the ‘other’, using DeBeauvior’s terminology.  The search of self requires self-examination within and against the dominant male definition of women. Also, the female poet’s goal to achieve self-definition includes her pursue for a name. The woman poet struggles to find connection between the name that was set for her by the world and the secret name which she has given herself. Gilbert suggests that perhaps the woman poet has two or more selves, and that makes self-definition much more complex. The self is constituted of two selves; the first self is public defined (wife, mother, Mrs, Miss) and the second self is the secret self. The secret self of the women poet involves her secret name, rebellious desires, creative passions, anxieties and her art. Sylvia Plath said the way out of this awful experience of interior imprisonment is to reject the public identity, ‘frantically clearing away the debris of alternative selves like “old whore petticoats”’[2] and engage with the supernatural self.

[1] Sandra M. Gilbert, ‘”My Name Is Darkness”: The Poetry of Self-Definition’, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 18, No. 4 (University of Wisconsin, 1977), pp. 443-457<; p.443

[2] Gilbert, p.452


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jo on January 13, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    In The Adoption Papers, all three of Jackie Kay’s narrators are seeking to confirm an identity but there are a multiplicity of identities to be negotiated around the ‘public defined identity’ and the ‘secret self’. The adoptive mother seeks to define herself publically as ‘mother’ but also as not a ‘communist’ and as ‘nuclear- free’ advocate. Each of these identities makes up her public-defined identity and each is important at different times. The adoptive mother’s secret self tries to come to terms with her not being her daughter’s birth mother. The birth mother struggles with the secret of being a mother but also with the secret of rejecting that motherhood, and the daughter struggles to find both a public-defined identity and her own personal identity.
    The use of different voices emphasises the daughter’s struggle to negotiate her different identities. The use of a Scottish dialect emphasises her belonging at school, and the use of Standard English conveys her authenticity at the counselling agency.
    In ‘The Seed’, Kay uses the form of a conversation between the two mothers in which the mothers do not respond to each other but express their views across one another. The birth mother is coming to terms with being unable to fulfil the role of respectable married mother, whilst the adoptive mother is willing herself to belong as a birth mother. The dissociated dialogue emphasises a struggle for identity that extends beyond being a mother and beyond these two narrators. The repetition of the word ‘I’ at the beginning of many of the stanzas encourages the reader to hear the cry for identity as coming from many female voices.


  2. Posted by Sarah on January 14, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I find it interesting how white men always seem to be the voice of alienation/outsiders, and take to this role with relative ease, whereas women seem to struggle more when giving a voice to their own alienation, or what Gilbert calls their second selves. Maybe there’s even a link there – the concept of what it is to be an outsider tends to be voiced by men, which perhaps makes it more difficult for women to write about their own experience of being othered.

    I’m also interested in the amorphous nature of female identity – do all women experience the sense of a split or fragmented identity which Gilbert talks about? She suggests some ‘female’ traits in writing, even amongst varied styles. I don’t know how accurate that is but it’s something to add to the discussion of whether or not you can find a collective female voice/identity.


  3. Posted by Minal on January 14, 2014 at 10:36 am

    The Adoption Papers focuses on the character of the daughter searching for her identity, however at the end the irony being that when she meets her birth mother she doesn’t feel attached to her at all. After years of being apart it is hard to fill the gap for them to have a special bond between them. Throughout the text there are references made to racial class and the stereotype is challenged proving that race does not have to be considered when adoption takes place. This can be linked to Sylvia Plath’s poetry where many of her poems resemble her own life.and the tragic experiences she endured. The poem ‘Aftermath’ could be referring to the breakdown of her marriage and many of her other poems contain evidence of her depression and many attempts to commit suicide. It is effective how both Plath and Kay write about their personal experiences as it allows the reader to connect and have a good understanding of the tragic issues.


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