Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Legacy of Confessionalism

Di Stefano

In the essay, "A Defense of Train Wrecks: Lyric Narrative Poetry and the Legacy of Confessionalism," Dante Di Stefano examines how the "confessional" poem has evolved.

"Extraordinary poets such as Joe Weil, Denise Duhamel, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Ruth Stone, and Sharon Olds all write confessional poetry. None of these poets would claim to be a confessional poet, just as none of the confessional poets, with the exception of Anne Sexton, accepted the label. All of these poets possess great technical proficiency and a profound understanding of the literary tradition in which they write. More importantly, the confessions in the poems written by these poets do not separate the poet from common experience."
In examining Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poem, “Daddy, We Called You,” he notes her "avowal and renewal" as the poet confesses:

One night, riding home from a date,
my middle class, American boyfriend
kissed me at the light; I looked up
and met your eyes as you stood at the corner
near Royal Machine. It was nearly midnight.
January. Cold and Windy. You were waiting
for the bus, the streetlight illuminating
your face. I pretended I did not see you,
let my boyfriend pull away, leaving you
on the empty corner waiting for the bus
to take you home. You never mentioned it,
never said that you knew
how often I lied about what you did for a living
or that I was ashamed to have my boyfriend see you,
find out about your second shift work, your broken English.
Di Stefano comments that "The denial of the father in this poem is a denial of self. By confessing the sin of shame for her father, the poet avows her love for him."

"There is a directness to Gillan’s poem that admits no posturing. By affirming her love of her father, by admitting the difference that he represented and of which she was ashamed, the poet reconnects the tissue that her denial severed. The autobiographical “I” in this poem is a universal “I,” channeling the experience of anyone who has denied their roots and disregarded their heritage, if only for a moment. Of the universality present in Gillan’s work, Joe Weil has commented: “All griefs are as unprecedented, as original as the whorls in our fingerprints, and yet certain poets are able to take the specific ceremonies of grief and loss and reenact them in such a way that they are meaningful to all who read their work.” As with all the best confessional poems, Gillan’s work bridges the particular with the universal."

read the full essay at

Maria's Official Site is at  Her latest publication is the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.

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