Posts Tagged 'definitions'

All Poetry Is Confessional

I have recently begun what I hope is an authentic endeavor to immerse myself in the study of poetry, with the hope that as I write, a consciousness will begin to take shape of how I am oriented and inclined in terms of tradition, intention, purpose, aesthetics, etc. The book I’m pondering over now is Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes (ed. Ryan van Cleave, Longman, 2003).

One thing I’m learning is that there is an infinity of angles from which poets might view any particular thing, a universe of personal, historical, social, sensory, emotional, imaginal, and spiritual events and experiences to explore, as well as innumerable ways not only of conceiving and shaping poems, but of describing and analyzing and rehearsing what it is one is doing or trying to do. For example:

Most important to me is that the poem not be “confessional”, that the poem be fiction and relate directly to a wider audience even while containing some personal elements.

This is a quote from the poet Dick Allen. I guess it caught my attention, because for me confession with its nuances and ramifications has been about as animating and disturbing an issue in my life and my writing as any I can think of. It seems vital to discern how and why it might be working in what I write. More from Allen:

When my poems start to become self-pitying or too self-conscious, or want to turn into home movies, or are more interesting to those who know me personally than to strangers, I abandon them, for I have failed to listen to the world and to write at my best.

I think I understand what he means, and I am pretty sure I agree with him.
A sappy, whining poem–one with a big mouth and no ears– is an immediate turnoff for me.

However, the question occurred to me whether poems may not be confessional in another sense–covertly, in a way perhaps hidden even from the poet. I am going to make some assertions which, in my limited literacy, I can’t support. But I would like to try them out and perhaps discover at some point whether they might at least have a useful function in deciphering poems.

Assertion: Poets write about what turns their heads, about what leads them into temptation.

If this is the case, the poem must reveal or uncover something about why this particular thing matters or how it matters–in relationship to what. Writing, like confession–or maybe, as confession–is a way I can find my way through whatever it is, while acknowledging and intensifying (intrinsically) my implication, my participation in it, beginning with the very act of choosing it.

Assertion: All poetry is confessional.

How so, and how can this be deciphered ? Is the writer aware of it, or is he “above” the subject, standing aloof from it (the Pharisee), or is he acknowledging his participation in the human race, and his culpability, by humbly taking his position in the middle of it (the Publican)?

I want to make a decision about my intention in writing–in a road map sort of way. What are the signs, the legend I can use to help plot out the “right” or best way to get where I am going? Where am I going? I don’t want to be a critic or a mere reporter. I imagine inhabiting my poems as an sort of invisible intercessor, not pedantically or explicitly, but by standing with, laughing with, weeping with. This might be one vantage point from which I can decipher what is taking place as I write and as I read the work of other writers. How do poets, writing in a vast variety of forms and styles, reveal their attitude or stance, through their explicit or implied subject(s), in relation to their fellow human beings and the creation?

Back to the notion of confession. If I posit salvation as a highly individual affair–just between me and You, God– with my sins as my private business, and their sins as theirs and not mine, then my confession and poetry would most likely have a “them and me” undercurrent, perhaps self-justifying, self-preoccupied, maybe as the angry or self-pitying or self-vindicating victim– indignant, vitriolic, sarcastic. On the other hand, if I see my brother, sister, daughter, neighbor, spouse, adversary) as my life, then my confession will have quite a different character– not something overt, but more like a deep, quiet stream running through my poem–of recognition, even, in a sense, of celebration in the midst of the fantastic impasses and entanglements in which I live with my fellow falling and sometimes irritating or despairing brothers and sisters–or with the physical world which often, with no intention whatever, trips me up and makes me forget or deny or ignore God.

Along with this perspective on confession, I am also proceeding with the understanding that the very nature of the (Orthodox) Christian life is perpetual and unceasing turning (around) towards God, which is repentance. In that light, the question I want to explore for and through my writing life is this: How shall I go about crafting poems that best use the circumstances in which I stand, my unique personal attributes, thoughts, impressions, and understanding to accomplish this turning, this blazing the way in my heart toward God?


Continuing with transcriptions from The Lenten Spring by Father Thomas Hopko, SVS Press.

[from the Parable of the Sower, Luke 8]:
“And some (of the seed) fell on good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold”…they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

To produce these holy fruits is not any easy task…does not just happen…is neither magical nor a long, hard labor…requires much work…most of all takes patience.

“By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:19)

Patience: to endure…watch…wait, not to hurry and rush…to suffer with and suffer through, in quiet expectation of the hope for result
[union with GOD].

“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)


More from my notes (transcriptions) from The Lenten Spring by Father Thomas Hopko (SVS Press).

Chastity in the original language..a combination of the word for wholeness and integrity, and the word for wisdom and understanding. It is not something physical or biological..negative..the indication of “something not happening.” It is the positive quality of “having it all together” and “keeping it intact”… a spiritual condition…healthy integration and soundness of body, heart, mind, and spirit…a fundamental..necessity for authentic life.


This is from my notes on reading from The Lenten Spring by Father Thomas Hopko (SVS Press).

“You gave me food,” “you gave me drink,” “you clothed me” and so on does not indicate one incident, but a constant attitude towards everyone.
The good of one’s neighbor is the only absolute law. The expression of love is the rule in every instance.

St John Chrysostum:
“Since we are all partakers of the same [human] nature, GOD commands and expects our affections toward one another.”

St Anthony the Great:
“Our life is with our neighbor…If we gain our brother, we have gained GOD, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”

St Silouan:
“Our brother is our life.”

Exile: definition

an irrevocable renunciation of everything in one’s familiar surroundings that hinders one from attaining the ideal of holiness,
a disciplined heart,
unheralded wisdom,
an unpublicized understanding,
a hidden life,
masked ideals,
unseen meditation,
the striving to be humble,
a wish for poverty,
the longing for what is divine,
an outpouring of love,
a denial of vainglory,
a depth of silence,
separation from everything, in order that one may hold on totally to GOD,
a chosen route of great grief…

from The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St John Climacus, Step 3 Exile.

Advertising dilemma

The suggested theme for VISIONS (a monthly magazine for our county) next month is, of course, Valentine’s Day, romance, love, etc. The contest for the month is “The Most Kissable Lips.” As this is the primary advertising vehicle for my business, I thought it would be appropriate for me to exhibit esprit de corps, enthusiasm, and liveliness, with the help of my always handy MILLION WORD CROSSWORD DICTIONARY. I have been using it for the past few months to add zest, pep, bite, elan, kick, zing, spark, verve, energy (you get the point) to my little 2 column x 2″ ad. This is much better than a mere thesaurus.

I started with the obvious term: LOVE (see below). What I was reminded of is how odd and slightly bewildering it is to find myself, in the business of clothing alterations, ostensibly engaged with looks, appearances, self-image, facade, personal impressions, exhibition, glamour, stylishness, etc. People ask me, “How are they wearing them now?”(meaning any aspect of any item of clothing). This gives me a huge (interior) chuckle, first of all wondering who “they” are, and secondly, knowing that I am the last person whom anyone should ask what is “in” or “out” in popular culture. But I try not to be smart, spout off, hold forth, go on and on, harangue, spiel, rant, yak, etc. I usually say ” I don’t know”, which is true (believe me). And I may add something like, “You know, opinions differ on these things. The main thing is that you like the way it looks and feel comfortable. Perhaps I can help you determine if things are in good proportion, and feasible.” I spare them, but not you who are reading, this further elaboration: What a person wears and how one appears to others and so forth, are not the things we should love, be attached to, care for, cherish, adore, dote on, esteem, cling to, revere, fall for, idolize, hold dear, yearn for, treasure, hold in high regard…Some of these are reserved for people, although most, in the fullest sense, are appropriate only for GOD.

The big $$ I charge for some operation I have performed on someone’s $2 thrift store find, huge bargain, or hand-me-down is based on the explicit cost or intrinsic value of the item, but on the skill required, the hours involved, the expense of doing business, and the basic (very) requirements for a livelihood. If someone wanted to know, the truth of it is that I believe that whether or not something fits perfectly (per se) is a matter of no consequence in the long haul, and in that sense, this work is worth nothing. I had a friend in college who loved to say in a cultivated sardonic tone, “What difference will it make 10 years from now?” I have remembered it, because it has turned out to be a valuable question to ask. Because on another level what I do and how I do it makes a life or death difference, though not for the sake of someone’s prom or cruise. It makes a difference, now, and in the very long haul (unto the ages of ages), how this day to day grind of work becomes the locus, arena, occasion, for the REAL work of how I treat, regard, respect, honor, dignify, listen to, appreciate, esteem the people who come in to my shop with their clothes and their issues: lack of confidence, bewilderment, stress, anxiety, depression, compulsions, grief, illness, bereavement, etc. The real “tools of the trade” are good ears, compassion, a sense of proportion and balance, a responsive spirit, unceasing prayer, a quiet heart, humility. It will take a long time to acquire all the fine tools I would like to have. But I have an inkling, clue, glimmering, hunch, indication, intimation of them.

I am always thankful for and to Chris K who owns and edits VISIONS. We have an ongoing dialogue about such things, and I have found that preparing the ad every month gives me a good arena for assessing, weighing, pondering, reckoning, sizing up, balancing, appraising, keeping tabs, paying attention to what it is I am really doing (or not doing) or want to–am given or called–to do.
And of course I am thankful to Daniel Stark and Stanley Newman who wrote this phenomenal work: THE MILLION WORD CROSSWORD DICTIONARY (the world’s biggest, newest, most complete crossword dictionary by far), Harper Resource, 2004. Not that I have any inclination whatsoever to work crosswords, but this is a great (and thick) book, astounding, highly entertaining, and helpful in other ways. It fits my main criterion for a good book: that it will change my life.

Oh, by the way, this is what my proposed ad copy for February is: FITTING DUDS, GARB, GEAR, FROCKS, FINERY, RAIMENT, REGALIA…