Friday, April 16, 2010

What does "Confessional" mean?

An interesting discussion unfolded in my Surrealism and Dada class yesterday. We're currently reading Claude Cahun's Disavowals. Some of my classmates called it confessional or journal-esque in nature. The discussion veered away from the text and what exactly is meant by the term "confessional."

One of the frustrations Elizabeth Robinson expressed about what are traditionally known as "Confessional" poets is the underlying assumption in their work: if I have felt or experienced something, it must be true. While they may doubt or make fun of this assumption at times, their work ultimately is a testament to it.

I asked, in order for something to be confessional, if it must be grounded in reality. Many people disagreed with this idea and I'm not sure I believe it 100% myself. There are plenty of fictionalized accounts of actual events that include supernatural phenomena or otherworldly happenings. These can always be contextualized by their historical origins. A good example of a book that we read in Surrealism that challenges this question is Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet, a surrealist memoir that could be read as a fictionalized account of Carrington's mental breakdown that resulted from Max Ernst's arrest during the Nazi occupation of France.

Those who said Disavowals was confessional argued that the erratic nature of the sections, lack of central plot, and no apparent glue to link each section together was representative of the unstable nature of Cahun's personality. I think this is ultimately a dangerous position, as it makes no distinction between thoughts and events. It is precisely this belief that leads to thoughtcrime in 1984 and a situation like Minority Report.

However, I don't want to minimize the reality of the mind. Poetry, the art of language, is often engaged with the tangible and intangible qualities of thought. It shows how ideas are formed, where they break down, and what an idea does to how we view the world, language, and ourselves. Even if it records your actual thoughts, there is nothing inherently confessional about it. That is, of course, unless you make it known to the reader, as Charles Bernstein does in "Thank You for Saying Thank You":

It fully expresses
the feelings of the
author: my feelings,
the person speaking
to you now.

and you, the reader, believe it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Survived AWP

About a week out from AWP and I have finally recovered. I definitely tried to do too much.

On Thursday, I attended panels from 9:00 a.m. until 5 p.m., went to my favorite bar in the world, and then attended two readings back to back. I didn't get home until somewhere around 3 a.m., didn't fall asleep until four, and then woke up at 7:30 to do it all over again. Friday was an early day. I stayed in panels until about 4:30 and then just hopped a bus back to Boulder to get some rest. I took it easy Saturday. I attended some panels and mostly walked around the book fair talking to people. Anyway, here are the highlights:

  • Donald Revell. This man is incredible. He led my favorite panel of the entire event, "Poetry After the 00's." The panel handed some poems out to everyone for discussion (Oppen, Ashbery, and Auden were included). Basically, Donald and the other moderator offered differing points of view on each to show a more traditional and a more forward looking interpretation. Very funny. My favorite quote from Revell was, "If you want to put your suffering down on paper, well anybody can do that. But I know nobody that can write the new poem, and given a choice between anybody and nobody, I would choose neither." Revell also did translations of Rimbaud's Illuminations and A Season in Hell, both of which appear to be superior to the New Directions editions.

  • The Bloof Books reading. I had to wander into a somewhat sketchy part of Denver to find this nearly unmarked door in Green Spaces Colorado, but once I got there it was well worth it. Jennifer L. Knox and Peter Davis were the two reasons I was there and they did not disappoint. Bought some copies of Poetry!Poetry!Poetry!, drank free beer from a keg they had so graciously provided.

  • The Book Fair. I've kind of ignored the world of contemporary poetry for the simple lack of finding a good place to start. It's only in the last few months I've found contemporary poets that are writing the kind of poetry I want to read. However, the problem seems to be finding good magazines. I've scanned the internet several times for a litmag that I would want to read and contribute to, but never with any real luck. Getting to see hundreds of magazines and their editors definitely gave me a starting point. Also, free books! I got around 30 new books while there, most of which I didn't pay for. Free subscription to Fence? Check. Free issues of Poetry? Check. Free broadsides and books of poetry? Check.

  • Getting invited to contribute to Coldfront magazine.

I intend to finish the magazine in the next week, now that I've recovered from the AWP. Before I can get to that though, is the more pressing issue of my thesis.