I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

04 July 2006

Independence Day and Confessional Poetry

I'm way too tempted to go off on a rant about the relentless celebration of militarism (if there's such a word), that there are other ways to celebrate today rather than talk of "complete victory" (whatever that means), such as reading aloud the Bill of Rights, which Gerri and I will do later this evening.

Modoc Lava Beds--so very not Florida

But I wish to devote today's post to Confessional Poetry, as it is a subject brought up for a prompt for Poetry Thursday. This time, it was suggested by Raven's Nest:
Maureen wrote, “Maybe somehow we could have this be a topic, without getting too much into the ‘confessional’ type of poetry — maybe just putting some thought into how this kind of poem might fall flat, or on the other hand, might be so powerful and universal that it changes someone's life, truly changes someone's response to pain and circumstances.”
This is a terrific idea, and not as simple as it first appears. What often gets in the way of writing a poem that is confessional (and here, I mean it in the way Linda McCarriston describes it as being necessary, personal, unsayable) is that the confessional impulse to disclose overtakes the poetry itself. For Thursday, I'll share a poem I'm working on that has this very problem. But today, I want to share an old poem of mine that I believe honors the confessional necessity and keeps the poetry alive.

In the following poem, I like to think the craft, the voice, the address, the perspective, the disjointed tracks, and the assonance keep the poetry alive in the poem: these qualities prevent the poem from falling flat. And I think it's because of the poem's confessional nature that I found these qualities so very necessary. In a way, the poem's content dictated this kind of presentation. The trick for me was not to get caught up in the melodrama of the content itself, but to follow its poetic qualities, which is a very deep kind of discipline for me. Here is the poem, which appears in my second book of poetry, nearly Florida:


To the coroner who did not have to draw my blood

sixteen years ago, and centrifuge
the alkaline hydrocarbons from my blood,
contributing to the Ada County records
another fact concerning how much gasoline
is too much for the teenaged male
to ingest, who did not have to split
me open, to remove what remained
of the liver, or to cut the lung tissue
to recover the amount of fluid that bled
through the membrane, who did not have
to decide between suffocation or poisoning,
all the while I was pounding the door
of God’s speakeasy, having arrived without
the password for the two eyes that hid
behind the door slit and that rolled oh
brother
when I guessed “Rimbaud’s three-legged
cat,” and the eyes’ voice said, “Get lost,
kid,” so I left thinking what a piss-ant
job for an angel, coming back to the world,
my parents’ garage, puking something blue
and thin onto the pavement, I give my thanks
to you, as I know you would have been
tender for this late adolescent, whose torso
had just lengthened to man-size, whose
hands were strengthening, whose skin
stretched young and fluid, for you
would have whispered, “Goddamn it,”
with the incision, remembering your own
son, or yourself, and I give you
thanks, for I may be the one you
blessed when you once cursed over
that old man’s drink, a Manhattan, “If there
would be one suicide who didn’t come
my way,” and I tell you now it was me
who didn’t come your way, cold, blue,
youthful, rotted, who today rose
with his beloved from the Modoc Lava Caves,
whose bearings were lost in the desert
afternoon light haloing silver off
automobiles and asphalt and ash.

9 Comments:

At 9:02 PM, Blogger michelle said...

this poem gave me goosebumps. Thanks for sharing it, I think its incredible. :)

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger bb said...

I love the way you leave so many questions of circumstance so the peom remains open to meaning, and not a kind of closed off immutable truth.

Would've been great to hear you read it, though. There are many more than 17 Brits who enjoy an Idahoan accent, though we probably wouldn't be able to distinguish it from any other American state :-)

 
At 12:02 PM, Blogger pepektheassassin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger pepektheassassin said...

What a strong poem this is! So good! I love the negative aspect of the narrator (don't know what else to call it) the voice that speaks to someone who exists but does not really interact with the speaker...of something NOT done, things that NEVER happened...except maybe in some other dimension. So many great images.

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Verity said...

Wow, this is electrifying. What a voice, what a flow, you're right, they do dance indeed.

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger January said...

Jim, I love your poetry.

This piece has a great momentum, right from the beginning. By using the first line as the title, it just builds and builds without going over the top or being too sentimental. If I'm not mistaken, the poem is one long sentence--it takes techniques to hold the emotions in check.

What a fine, fine poem. This is craft at its best.

 
At 3:22 AM, Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

This is powerful stuff. Very well put together without getting bogged down in emotion - it tells the story, but with graphic, vivid details that don't alienate the reader.

 
At 5:04 PM, Blogger RavenGrrl said...

I have to echo what everyone else already wrote about this poem, and having come late to read some of the blogposts inspired by the "confessional poetry" prompt, I am a bit out of the loop. I just stumbled on this post, Jim and I have to say I am floored -- this is an incredible poem, perfect the way it is. I wouldn't change a thing. Your voice comes through just loud enough with a strength and determination that is rare to find in "confessional poetry" (i hate that term)

I also, like others, appreciate the angle you approached the telling: by saying what did not happen, by speaking to a coroner you did not encounter. It's like beating around the bush to tell something, only better. You're not beating it up. You're just laying it out for all to see -- and to relate to, to empathize with (and like someone else said, the holes in the detail provide places for readers to fill in with their own details, thus making it easier to connect with the emotion of the poem.

great great great! I love this so much.
Maureen
Land of LIttle Rain or
Raven's Nest

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

It was nice to hear the poem read, and you have a gentle sounding voice. Cool poem, very moving.

 

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