Confessional poetry is the poetry of personal or ‘I’. It is the poetry which springs from the personal life of the poet. Private experiences, alcoholism, masturbation, and feelings about trauma, depression, relationship and suicidal attempts are expressed in this poetry, often in an autobiographical manner. The poet reveals directly or indirectly his or her own experiences, problems and psychological complex in his or her poetry. While these poems frequently engage in what is repressed, hidden and falsified, defining them as ‘confessional’ undermines the creative ability of the writer to construct a persona or imaginary scenario that is separate from their lives. The new poets adopted personal history or autobiography as their central theme and direct expression as their method. The confessional style of writing is associated with Robert Lowell, W. D. Snodgrass, John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath etc. In 1967, M. L. Rosenthal wrote: The term ‘confessional poetry’ came naturally to my mind when I reviewed Robert Lowell’s Life Studies in 1959. He further said that because of the way Lowell bought his humiliation, sufferings and psychological problems into the Life Studies, the word ‘confessional’ seemed appropriate enough. (Qtd. in Hall, Barnard, 33).
This paper will examine Robert Lowell’s creative process of exposing his private experiences in his autobiographical poetry, particularly in one of his best volumes; Life Styles, through which he intended to fictionalize his self in the process of creating a retrospective truth of his life.
Lowell utilized his recollected memories, not only to explore his lost self and others’ as part of his psychotherapy, but to employ such reminiscences to recreate a modified self located at the center of the cultural framework. By following such a poetic style, that represented a new sensibility, Lowell achieved a significant breakthrough in American poetry, that M.L. Rosenthal branded as “confessional (1), while B. Shaw labeled as “poetry of revolt.” (2)
However, the most interesting feature in his confessional poetry is the use of ‘marital metaphors’; specifically those of ‘separation’, ‘breaking up’ and ‘divorce’. Lowell adapted this style to launch a procession of alienated figures whose calamities examine, shed light and link the poet’s private embarrassments, painful memories and psychological traumas with so many seemingly unrelated topics such as American materialistic traditions, estrangement of the artist from culture, religious false verifications and war.