Introduction (Critical Survey of Poetry: Topical Essays)
With the publication of Robert Lowell’s Life Studies in 1959, the term “confessional” began to be used to refer to poetry that drew from and described the poet’s own experiences, often including some type of psychological breakdown or mental health treatment as well as familial conflict rendered in a dramatic manner. This was a major departure from the high modernism of the first half of the twentieth century, wherein poets such as William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens sought to impress their learnedness on readers, frequently using Greek and Latin and referring to artists and works of art that would be familiar only to readers with similar educational backgrounds. The modernist poets used poetry as “an escape from personality,” as Eliot said, not as a way to express personality, a primary motive of confessional poets. Although the term “confessional” refers to the content of the poems rather than the techniques used by confessional poets, they themselves argued that they were just as artistically and technically conscious as their modernist predecessors but more direct and accessible in their subject matter.
This departure from the detachment of modernism created controversy, and confessional poetry was not widely accepted as a legitimate art form at the time of its origin. More traditional poets and critics considered it to be solipsistic, even narcissistic, and its subject matter, such as bodily...
(The entire section is 3624 words.)
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