How to Write Confessional Poetry

What is Confessional Poetry

Confessional poetry, also known as confessionalism, is a poetic style that emerged in the US during the fifties. It is called the poetry of the personal or ‘I’ since it deals with extremely personal individual experience, the emotions, trauma, including subjects that were earlier considered as taboo. Some of these poems are written about subjects such as suicide, mental illness, abuse, sexuality, and death.

Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, John Berryman, and Anne Sexton are some of the major poets associated with this poetic style. Most of these confessional poems were influenced by poets’ own personal experience. These poems helped them to express their anger, fury, loneliness and depression towards the injustices in the society.  

Features of Confessional Poetry

  • Based on the self and real experience
  • Deeply personal
  • Language is vivid, use of metaphors
  • Focuses on taboo subjects such as sex, suicide, mental illness

Example of Confessional Poetry

“The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare’s-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My hearts grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the “mentally ill.”)…”

– excerpt from “Waking in the Blue” by Robert Lowell

“Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

the grass as bristly and stout as chives,
and me wondering when the ground would break,
and me wondering how anything fragile survives;

up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man,
not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all…
he took the fullness that love began.

Returning north, even the sky grew thin
like a high window looking nowhere.
The road was as flat as a sheet of tin.

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.”

– excerpt from “The Abortion” by Anne Sexton

How to Write Confessional Poetry

How to Write Confessional Poetry

  1. Read Confessional Poetry

Before you start writing a confessional poem, read some confessional poems of leading poets. This will help you to understand the style and depth of this poetry. Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, Anne Sexton’s Live or Die and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel are good collections to start your reading.

Now that you know something about the background, features and styles of confessional poetry, it’s time to start writing a poem.

  1. Select an Event

Confessional poetry is all about private experiences. Focus on an important event in your life – an incident that stirred great emotions in you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a depressing, sad memory, but most good confessional poems are based on morbid events.

  1. Self – Reflect

One must be self-reflective as possible to create a good confessional poem. Take enough time to self- reflect. Don’t just stop at surface emotions; dig deep into the experience and emotions.

The poet Mimi Khalavati says that “The novice poet will try and express feelings they already know they have, but an experienced poet is one who knows that a poem is only a true poem if it reveals what you didn’t know you felt.”

  1. Write

Now that you have focused on an event and its effects on you, start writing the poem on a piece of paper. Let the words and thoughts flow freely. Using the stream of consciousness will help you to write a better poem.

Confessional poetry doesn’t have a fixed structure. Some confessional poets use very strange structures. So you don’t have to worry about the structure of the poem. Give more focus to the experience and your feelings.

  1. Read aloud

Once you have written the poem, read it aloud. See if you can do any improvements to maximize the effect of the poem. Check for spelling and grammar errors.

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.


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