‘Not a group but a tendency’1 is how Ron Silliman announced, in 1975, what has since come to be known as Language poetry. Similarly, we should see confessional poetry as a tendency, rather than as a group or movement. The term ‘confessional poetry’ was coined by M. L. Rosenthal in a review in 1959: the poets most directly associated with the tendency – Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, with W. S. Snodgrass and Stanley Kunitz in supporting roles – did not consider themselves a group, and produced no manifesto. As only some of their work can be called confessional, it is misleading to refer to them as the ‘confessional poets’. Furthermore, the confessional tendency was only one of several post-war reactions to the supposedly ‘impersonal’ poetics of Eliot and Pound, which seemed discredited after having proved compatible with fascist sympathies and anti-Semitism. Other avowedly ‘personal’ poetic movements included Projectivism, with its emphasis on the poet’s breath; Frank O’Hara’s ‘I-do-this-I-do-that’ poems and mock-manifesto ‘Personism’; poetries of witness that asserted the political identity of the poet; and Beat poetry. Readers familiar with such movements may find it difficult to appreciate the extent to which confessional poetry represented, to many of its initial readers, a radical, decisive break with the high modernist tradition. Today it is more likely to appear timely, or else of its time, in the way it embodies the paradoxes that characterized the Cold War period in the US. The paranoia and insularity that accompanied the country’s emergence as the dominant economic global force find a corollary in confessionalism’s swaggering vulnerability and theatrical narcissism.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- The Great Divide? Post-confessional and Language Poetry
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number