Confessional School of Poetry

Confessional poetry is also known as confessionalism and is a technique of writing poems that emerged from the United States in the 1950s. This style is well defined as personal poetry or the ‘I” poetry as it overly focuses on the first person narration of psyche, personal trauma, and individual experiences. Matters concerning sexuality, mental illness, suicide and are also involved in the themes of confessional poetry. Several poets are seen as prominent advocates of this style who emerged between the 1950s and 1960s. Confessional School of PoetryThese poets include Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, W.D Snodgrass, and Allen Ginsberg. For instance, in his work Robert Lowell was able to eloquently reveal the struggles he went through in his marriage and the mental illness. Confessional poetry is, therefore, a psychoanalytic approach in literature combines with poetic language to bring out more creative work. The essay will critically analyze the confessional school of poetry through evaluating the style and approach the writers in this school use.



Confessional school of poetry is a significant model of writing which is all about self-evaluation. The school came into light starting in the 1950s and evolved through to 1960s. Prominent poets such as Sylvia Plath, W.D Snodgrass, and Anne Sexton were involved and served as the pioneers that propelled this school to greater heights (Brozak, p.3). Poems in this school are made in such a manner that they are able to reveal the writer’s deepest emotions and anguish by way of verses concerning personal issues. Confessional School of PoetryThe movement depicts self-depreciation in individuals through real situations and personal experiences and which brings about negative emotions such as that of sadness, fear, impotence, and anger. For instance, whereas poems such as sonnets address aspects of love, epics talk about strength, but then the confessional poetry is all about human pains and private challenges. The term Confessional poetry was first brought out by M.L. Rosenthal when reviewing the life studies of Robert Lowell (Brozak, p.3).

The attributes of confessional poetry are unique from those of other schools of poetry. For instance, one of the defining traits of confessional poetry is their use of the subject matter that has traditionally been considered as taboos (Brozak, p.2). For example, aspects of sexuality, depression, suicide, and alcoholism and drug abuse have all along been seen as embarrassing and shameful and in the past, they were not discussed openly. For example, Sylvia Plath writes down a very emotional poem called “Daddy” in which she talks about the way she killed her father. This type of writing seemed scary and was not accepted in the past. However, the confessional poetry model is very critical and calls for the writer to write things at heart. In many times these poems are avoided by many who feel that they are authentic and at times traumatizing (Brozak, p.1)Confessional School of Poetry.

Moreover, confessional poetry uses the first person style of narration where “I” is overly used. That is, all the poems in this school are narrated using first person technique and which brings the reader very close to the reader. The writer aims at telling the true story or which is related to their actual life. Through the use of the first-person method, the scope of the poetry is expanded, and the readers’ emotions are triggered as expected (Sherwin, p.4). This is because the reader is able to marvel at the tribulations and the challenges the writer goes through while reading the poem. The reader is the ultimate target of the writer and tries as much to draw them closer to his or her work and make them identify with the writer (Sherwin, p.4)Confessional School of Poetry.

Another important thing about the confessional school of poetry is their ability to apply the autobiographical design. By their nature, all the confessionals poems are seen or written just similar to autobiography. This is because; they are such that they record all the personal lives and sordid experience concerning the authors. This approach is expansively found in all the essays, memoirs and autobiographies. However, there are also other poems that adopt the “I” but then in the confessional poems the speaker and the poet are all but the same person. This is because; the speaker uses his own life as a reference to his work. However, other poems that use the first person may not be all about the writer hence the strict difference with the confessional school of poetry (Brozak, p.3)Confessional School of Poetry.

Moreover, the confessional style of poetry is very challenging as the writers have to use strict lyrical craftsmanship. By thinking about it, it seems as though these kinds of poems are straightforward to develop and construct. This is because; it looks as if it is straightforward to take a pen and paper and to start writing down the life experiences and feelings. The free-flowing narration is taught to be simple, but then there is an enormous challenge in writing confessional poetry. This is because; about the original writers these types of poems have to adhere to the intonations, rhythms, and structure to make them more appealing and poetic. For instance, W.D. Snodgrass was considered the father of this type of poetry as he was able to combine many literary devices such as illusion, metaphors, imagery, aphorism, and tone in his works (Sherwin, p.4)Confessional School of Poetry.

Confessional poetry also has to use the aspect of duende. This term means that the writer has to input the aspect of inspiration, passions, and emotion in the poem. Use of duende is the kind of fire or strength which makes the confessional poems to stand out. This is because, its use helps the writer to evoke excitement, sadness, and anger which are essential in capturing the attention of the reader from start to end. This approach also helps in coming up with powerful creations which at the time make the readers develop deep reflections, laugh or cry. This is because through embodiment of the words the body receives the right trigger and reactions. For instance, works of Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton and John Berryman are very significant pieces in the use of duende (Sherwin, p.4)Confessional School of Poetry.

The confessional school of poetry is very critical in the use of the psychological approach in their writing. This is the model of writing where the writer seems to write things that are the cause of their suffering. The confessional poems remove the boundaries that exist between the unconscious and the conscious. This is because the poems are written through the experience of writers and their repressed feelings. It is for this case the confessional poetry is known as the suffering poetry (Sherwin, p.5). The poet is always a victim of suffering, and this reality is evidenced through the desire of the individual to come up with self-consciousness. The aspect of the unconscious mind serves well in the development of this type of poems, and the writers are mostly individuals going through immense suffering. In many instances, it has been said that the use of a confessional model of writing serves as a therapy to the writers as through providing these deep thoughts and emotions they are able to cleanse their minds from disturbing life challenges (Sherwin, p.6)Confessional School of Poetry.

For instance, Plath was one of the writers that used these poems as a way of healing his suffering self. This is because; she was able to develop critical pieces about her dead father and challenging union with her husband. To achieve this, she is able to apply enormous symbolism and language in an effort to understand human behavior. The psychological aspects of the Electra complex are reviewed in many of the writers of the style and especially the works of Plath. She is a writer in pain while making his poem and especially to the thought of her father dying and leaving her. Her unresolved memories linger well through the poem and demonstrate the love she had for the father even though deserted by the husband. In her poem, ‘Daddy’ she sees to praise her father by giving her sentiment and feelings about the father in the past. For instance, when she claims that she thought her father was the most significant person on earth. This is humorous but at the same times a sorrowful memory bearing in minds that the writer has been divorced by her husband (Brozak, p.3)Confessional School of Poetry.

The approach of confessional poetry is diverse from all others such as the New York, beat and imagist in that it applies a lot of rawness while trying to incorporate emotion and personal details. The use of first-person narration in confessional poetry is an essential aspect and one that creates a union between the writer and reader. The poems are similar to the confessions of sins which leave the believer feeling better after that (Rodriguez, p.2). It should, however, be apparent that what makes a poem fit in the confession school is the degree through which it is developed. For instance, some think that it is only about talking of sex, family, madness, and alcoholism that the poem can be classified as a confession. However, there are many other things such as address and diction which should augur well with the writing. These poems are also able to incorporate the aspects of poetry better than any other poems from other schools.  This is because; they are supposed to give what seems like authentic experiences of life of the writer and make the writer not to doubt the narration (Rodriguez, p.2)Confessional School of Poetry.

The content used in writing of the confessional poetry is significant. The intimate, autobiographical and sordid materials used are essential in revealing some explicit personal aspects which are excellent in making of confessional poems. The ideal nature of confessional poetry is in their content which is over visitation of writer life and their travails. Their approach seems very critical of suffering and personal reflections and which make them more captivating and appealing to readers. Through their content the aspects of anger, sadness and melancholy are achieved as the reader tries to connect the words with the poet. The most prominent model through which the confessional poems are identified is their flawless nature and the ability of the writers to come up with well-structured works that are both poetic and at the same time insightful (Graham, p.2)Confessional School of Poetry.

Ethical considerations are however some significant concerns about the way the confessional poems are written. This is because the writers are seen as persons with no respect for their personal and private lives as they are used to narrating their ordeals and most touching instances on their works. They are seen as persons that try to seek sympathy, glory, and admiration through giving right tier issues in life. The critics argue that the use of truth in this school of poetry is a bad thing as many readers like to feel deceived and cheated. Thus, by telling a lot of truth may be very unfortunate to this type of poets as their approach demands and at the same time makes them unpopular. However, it is essential to understand that what the critics of this school see as weaknesses is indeed the strength. This is because; the poets are able to come up with this piece to evoke these same feelings and to tell the truth that many writers have shunned ways from. The confessional school of poetry has also been very critical to women as the evolution of women writers came during the period of development of this style.

Confessional school of poetry is, therefore, a very significant way of writing which is both fascinating and wondrous. The writers that use this model try to make their readers experience their personal lives as they narrate the incidences through use of the first person. The writers are also very creative in that they are able to come up with a far different version of writing apart from the rest of school. This is because the confessional poems bring about feelings of sadness, Pity, sympathy, anger, and emotions as brought out through the different approaches of the poet.

Works Cited

Brozak Jennifer. Characteristics of Confessional Poetry. Retrieved from,

Graham, David, and Sontag, Kate, eds. After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography.  Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2001

Rodriguez, Lara Rossana, “The Strains of Confessional Poetry: The Burdens, Blunders, and Blights of Self-Disclosure” 2016. CUNY Academic Works retrieved from, .

Sherwin, Miranda, “Confessional” Writing and the Twentieth-Century Literary Imagination, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 Confessional School of Poetry

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