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Poetry is often thought of as a form of verbal artistry in that through the use of language a poet is able to express a plethora of different imaginative interpretations of various subjects.
Such use of imagination though is not limited to flights of fancy nor is it limited to describing the brighter side of life and emotion rather they can convey the darkest of thoughts, the most troubling of ideas and the most horrifying thoughts that a writer can conjure up.
If poetry is an expression of life then it should be able to reflect happiness and despair, joy and suffering, as well as success and failure. Confessional poetry is based on this notion since it is not inspirational but rather personal.
It relies on an individual’s life experiences and as such draws from both the good and the bad. In a sense it can be compared to a condensed autobiography in that the author uses either a specific life experience or experiences accumulated over several years to create an artistic verbal account of their life.
While it is often times criticized as being akin to a form of self loathing what must be understood is that this form of poetry uses the pain of the writer in order to capture the attention the reader, instill in them the pain and despair the writer experienced and have the audience realize that a person’s life can turn out in so many possible ways with a happy ending only being one of the possible outcomes.
It is based on this interpretation that poets such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton can be considered the confessional poets of their day in that their poems spoke of highly personal and deeply troubling points in their life which they utilized as a means of conveying the angst, despair and suffering they experienced.
In to prove this point this paper will examine the poem “Daddy” by Plath and “Again and again and again” by Sexton in order to show how both pieces embody the spirit of confessional poetry that has been described in this section.
Examining the work of Plath and Sexton
When examining the poem “Daddy” it can be seen that the poem itself is a highly personal account of Plath’s relationship with her father. In it she details how she is bound to the memory of her father in that up till this day she still cannot cast off the shadow of her father which for her is still larger than life (Bloom, 41 – 44).
She confesses how her father was an imposing figure in her youth that she felt protected by (i.e. Plath being the foot and her father the shoe) but then through his subsequent death she felt lost, miserable and even blames her father for leaving her mother and her alone (Bloom, 41 – 44).
She indicates how even in death the way in which she never lived up to his expectations, they way in which he dominated her life and how she was never able to prove her worth to her father in the end affected her deeply. Towards the end she elaborates on how she could never talk to her father again, that there is no chance to be reconnected with him and it is these thoughts that continue to haunt her despite it being years since his death (Bloom, 41 – 44).
It is based on this that it can be seen that the poem seems similar to an autobiographical confession. It details her misery, her regret and her sorrow over not only the loss of her father at an early age but on how this has continued to affect her till her adulthood. The deeply personal nature of the poem, the way in which in lays bear the life of Paths and how it details a deeply personal and troubling nature of her life is in essence exactly what a confessional poem is all about.
The poem “Again and Again and Again” by Sexton on the other hand is apparently an account of Sexton’s own experience in a relationship. In it she seemingly details the failure of one of her past relationships (Rees-Jones, 283).
She elaborates on how the relationship itself was angry and spiteful, that both of them wore false masks to hide who they were and that in end Sexton seemingly cheated on the man in revenge in order to make him depressed, angry and be shoved into the pits of despair.
In a way the poem itself seems to be confession by Sexton of how she went from being in a relationship to deciding to cheat (Rees-Jones, 283). She shows how it was premeditated, intentional and meant to cause as much hurt and damage as possible.
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It is an unflattering account of a moment in her life that she is not proud of yet its creation exemplifies the basis by which confessional poems are made. It highlights a deeply personal yet negative aspect of her life; it doesn’t create a rose tinted image rather it lays it bare showing all the scars and scrapes for all to see. It is the embodiment of honesty, experience and how life can change at times for the worse.
The Mental State of Plath and Sexton
No examination of the work of Plath and Sexton as confessional poets is complete without a brief overview of their mental state. It is rather interesting to note that both writers committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning (Trinidad, 21 – 25).
In fact based on various accounts of their life it was noted that they actually suffered from certain forms of severe mental problems that caused depression, anxiety and in the case of Sexton sexually deviant behavior wherein she sexually abused her own daughter (Trinidad, 21 – 25).
It is based on this that it can be thought that their use of confessional poetry was in a way a form of coping with their own lives. That the deeply striking and painful voice in their poems was a direct result of their unstable mental conditions and that it was only through such mental states that they were able to gain the inspiration they needed in order to write the way they did (Trinidad, 21 – 25).
Based on what has been presented in this paper it can be seen that both Plath and Sexton were deeply disturbed individuals yet poetic geniuses in that they were able to draw on their pain and mental instability to create confessional poetry that grabs the very soul of the reader and makes them think of the darkness within life.
The fact that both poets committed suicide during the prime of their careers actually lends their work a certain dark feel which actually makes them better than if both authors had lived long lives and died in a boring fashion.
Bloom, Harold. “Thematic Analysis of “Daddy.” Bloom’s Major Poets: Sylvia Plath (2001): 41-44. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Rees-Jones, Deryn. “Consorting with Angels: Anne Sexton and the Art of Confession.” Women 10.3 (1999): 283. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web.
Trinidad, David. “Two Sweet Ladies”: Sexton and Plath’s Friendship and Mutual Influence.”
American Poetry Review 35.6 (2006): 21-29. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web.