The element of truth in confessional poetry – Blog Post by Hannah Mitchell

The likes of Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Sylvia Plath broke the traditional mould of poetry and started to write poetry which represented realistic events in their lives.

However, with their confessions in their poetry came the backlash of people delving into the truth behind their stories. Critics started to argue to what extent their poetry was representative of their lives and also the brutality of some of their stories, therefore questioning their morals and ethics. Sylvia Plaths work has been criticised as being ‘over-indulgent’ and a form of ‘revenge fantasy’ against certain events that happened in her life, involving attempted suicide. Confessional poetry is from the perspective of the poet and rarely involves the emotional and physical aspects from the other side.

However, it has been argued that confessional poetry does have an element of truth that has been broadened and exaggerated to an extent through imagery and creativity. As confessional poetry has been described as being true/realistic facts of the poet’s lives, it undermines the ‘creative ability’ of the poets as readers assume it to simply be facts. However, to write about ‘hidden/repressed/falsified’ topics is extremely brave and influential to literature and to portray the truth around controversial topics such as racism/incest/abuse in a creative form is very talented.


15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rachel Chandar on January 29, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    I agree that these confessional poets were brave in writing about such taboo and controversial topics. Although they did write in a creative form, they still did not shy away from the truth or try to dilute the importance of conveying such topics. I feel that these poets used such aesthetics and art in their writing to enhance the power of their poems that comes from writing so controversially. They wanted to express such universal themes to make it more relatable, understandable and even acceptable for the readership.


  2. Posted by Fern Dalton on January 30, 2018 at 11:46 am

    Interesting read. I think that confessional poetry is a hard concept to define and even if you were to write the truth out plain and flatly, someone will be there to criticize/say that it isn’t confessional poetry. However, I strongly agree with your point that writing about topics that are considered ‘controversial’ is something that should be applauded and should be spoken and written about more.


  3. Posted by Ruzina on January 31, 2018 at 11:58 am

    I agree that a woman’s ‘creative ability’ is undermined. It is interesting that critics view women’s art as narcissism, the moment women sound like they’re complaining automatically means they are self obsessed. However, confessional poetry was not just recording emotions on paper; poets were using their imagination and creativity. They took personal issues and made their poems universal so that the reader could ‘live’ through it.


  4. Posted by Ella on January 31, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    It is definitely important to include a critical approach to confessional poetry, as Plath’s own critiques do help to develop a new attitude towards her work. However, it has to be remembered that confessional poetry does not have a universal definition, and people will always have different criticisms towards it. Another point would be to understand that there is not always clear divide between confession and the imaginary- as the two are both fuelled by emotion, so they could easily be confused by some.


  5. Posted by ambermillar1995 on January 31, 2018 at 9:06 pm

    I have been wondering about the standard we hold poets to, in contrast to the expectations we have of authors. I think there is somewhat of an expectation on poetry to be truthful, especially if written in the first person. Is this because poetry is more likely to touch us on an emotional level and we feel personally attached to the words? I think your interrogation of the idea about honest poetry suppressing creativity is fantastic, well done.


  6. Posted by Carmen on January 31, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    I like the fact that you addressed the issue of confessional poetry being criticised as it seemingly overshadows the poet’s creative imagination as they rely on true events yet these critics choose to ignore the actual value the poems possess. These confessional poets allow people an insight into their history through the means of art and by doing so it enables us to feel a more personal connection to their poems. Do you believe that gender or even race are factors which push poets to write confessional poetry, and if so why?


  7. Posted by Zoha on February 1, 2018 at 4:26 am

    Great blog! I liked how you talked about confessional poetry is speaking the truth. These writers wrote about the truth of the human condition, they addressed the concerns of everyday woman’s lives and were not afraid to focus on the more poignant realities. The fact that they were able to draw from their own experiences makes the reality more tangible and is more relatable.


  8. Posted by Georgia on February 5, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Yes, really liked this too. I do find it interesting how the criticism we read praised Lowell but condemned the likes of Plath and Sexton (women, coincidentally) for being over-indulgent. personally, I think it was really brave how they exposed their private lives to the public space.


  9. Posted by Becky Gawn on February 6, 2018 at 11:56 am

    I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with your comments and think that no matter what the poets chosen topics were it is brave to address them. There is a stigma surrounding certain topics and whether or not these can be spoken of in literature. I believe that what confessional have done is raise more awareness of how personal literature can be and that people shouldn’t be afraid to delve into their lives and speak of their own experiences and readers should be thankful for how personal their work is,


  10. Posted by camara on February 6, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post, it was interesting that you noted how brave these women were for writing about taboo topics, however with the criticism they received, particularly focussing on Plath, do you think her work has placed confessional poetry under more scrutiny?


  11. Great post, Hannah! I enjoyed with how you described confessional poets as “brave”, as they had completely challenged the literary norm. I find it interesting how they are all branded “confessional” poets and tarred with the same brush despite the major differences in levels of confession. Should there be a way of levelling the extent that a poet is confessional? Plath divulged a lot more, in terms of content and contraversiality – should this be made a point of?


  12. Posted by Sara on February 15, 2018 at 11:01 am

    I really like how you have highlighted the fact that some critics have pointed out that confessional poetry ‘undermines the ‘creative ability” of the poet as these poems are merely seen as facts. However, in my opinion, confessional poetry does indeed reflect the creative ability of the poets due to the way in which they create poetry based on taboo or highly sensitive topics and making them so exaggerated as a means to gain widespread attention.


  13. Posted by Bronagh McCollum on February 18, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    Great blog post! I suppose that confessional poetry figures just as individuals do in reality. Just as in daily life our actions are observed and scrutinised by others, so to is the contents of Confessional Poetry. Confessional Poetry certainly helps us to relate to others, but does it also implore us to be less judgemental?


  14. Posted by Ella Bukbardis on February 27, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Despite confessional poetry being criticised for being over-indulgent, a way of reading the poetry is also to separate the poetry from the poet. This means by reading it as connection between the text and the audience, the text can produce notions of poetic and personal authenticity, which are not related to any confessional poet.


  15. Posted by Lily on February 27, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    I agree that these poets were extremely brave writing about topics so close to them and topics that would be considered a taboo to talk about. Also, for women to write openly on these subjects was at the time going against what was expected of them, but they went against this and bravery wrote what ever they wished to write about.


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