Confessional poetry, the writer’s 5,000th precious thought, sometimes reminds me of Cecily, in Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest:”
“I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn’t write them down, I should probably forget all about them.”
Too often, confessional poems are small, not universal, and so not true for others.
Personal reflection can be profound.
Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” is important, moving poetry. “I Could Not Tell,” by Sharon Olds, is another example.
But such work requires huge talent and it’s safer for the rest of us to look outside the self, to everyday life, for an anchor.
Here is an objective poem on alphabet wallpaper, the kind that first teaches us our ABC’s. I saw it in a kid’s playroom recently and remembered the process: seeing bright, representative animals first, then watching them recede real meaning emerged, the weight of knowledge.
Aardvark’s ahead of Bee and Cat, Donkey
In the sunfast jungle, spelled animals who stop
At white panels of wallpaper, accept
Briefly their tame, burdened purpose, and recede:
The way a Cheshire cat leaves its teeth,
Aardvark leaves an A. The lesson develops –
The wide meaning on a legend-layered map,
Unseen, rising finally to the regardless eye.
The creatures themselves continue naïve as Genesis:
Lamb knows nothing, the Nightingale nothing.
Their images thin and turn, trailing off
Into the fog of the white wall, free and fabulous.
In their wake, in the kids’ clean room, a bewildering
Kingdom of names and knowledge, a belled self.
Ever notice how men and women greet or say good-bye differently? The sexes have many speech pattern differences and I have often seen a special contrast in farewells. Here’s another objective poem.
The Five Good-Byes
At the back door, Sandy says, “Good-bye.”
Hates to go, has to go, is going… One.
Lifts her purse: “I said, ‘good-bye’.” Two’s petulant
Because I’m reading in the sports page, fall’s
First football scores, another obit for the BoSox.
“Kiss?” Three’s the kiss, the walk past the garden
To the dusty drive where she turns, torn:
“Water the roses?” I’ll water.
“Call?” I’ll call.
Four’s a doleful, over-the-shoulder, “So, good-bye,”
The saddest in our trailing stages
Of separation, at the house, airport, over the phone.
Women like five good-byes. Guys, no: “See ya!”
That easy relief of wise guy distance, D-Fense!
She buckles up in the Volvo, the black wagon,
Heads for the highway waving five, “Bye-bye.”
John Ronan is a former Gloucester poet laureate and the host of the cable access show “Writer’s Block” on Cape Ann TV.