I just read a renewal offer from Poetry Magazine, with an interesting quote from the editor:
Let us remember... that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both. Christian Wiman
I'm primarily a fiction writer these days, though I go through intense poetry writing phases. I've been thinking poetry a lot lately, since stumbling upon and joining a poetry writer's group. My early influences include William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings, Diane Wakoski, and Dylan Thomas (Dylan Thomas for his prose more than his poetry), Robinson Jeffers' "Cassandra," and a poem called "White Dove of the Wild Dark Eyes" by Joseph Mary Plunkett, from Poems of The Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood; also, my favorite T. S. Eliot line, "My life is measured out in coffee spoons." These poets and poems taught me the power of language and internal meter and the freedom of the page. Electronic publication makes it more difficult to translate my poems into copy and paste. In some poems, my lines sprawl or form into shapes, but I believe the words speak for themselves, without the visual enhancement.
I have a poem up for critique now, and I realize, I've held back. My poems are autobiography, and the use of my family seems a betrayal. It's easier when a poem is about my feelings or my observations, only me, and does not directly involve others. I withdrew a poem from publication I couldn't let my son or my childhood family read. My fiction is not autobiography, though, of course, we draw from who we are and where we've been; but there's no direct correlation (other than the themes of betrayal of trust, and transcendence).
I have learned some poets approach their poems the way I write fiction: They explore a concept, and make it up as they go along, seeing where the narrative will lead. All of my poems are personal. Up until now, I considered poetry to be the closest form of expression to the self. This is true of many poets, like me. For others, now, I am not so sure.
There's an interesting article in the November/December 2008 issue of Poets & Writers about Paul Guest, titled "The Guest List." In it, he expresses he was tired of readers assuming every poem he wrote was autobiography, so he's decided to lie on purpose.
I think if I'm going to lie, I'll lie in fiction. My poetry expresses my self. It is autobiography, and if I must, I'll be cautious and circumspect about what I allow others to read, and add to the piles of notebooks and drives I've marked: Destroy Upon Death.
In an earlier post, I wrote about my approach to both poetry and fiction: http://anniekingwrites.blogspot.com/2008/09/why-i-write.html. The difference is, my fiction constantly surprises me. As I revise a poem, the facts may change, but the truth remains; I work toward accuracy. My fiction tells another kind of truth; it is creative play, and in its initial draft, I am never sure what will happen next. There is a distance between myself and my fiction. In fiction, I express myself through my characters, who are not me, so I don't know what they'll do until they do it. My poetry defines me, my thoughts and emotions, in that moment of time; first person or third, agent or observer, I am always the speaker. (I guess I shouldn't divulge that. I am not a brave or a bold writer; my writing is bold.)