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Writing Confessional Poetry

I really like Taylor Swift’s new album. Obviously, as a writer, the literary themes of The Tortured Poet’s Department appeal to me. I think it’s her strongest writing to date, with the emotional resonance and expert storytelling that characterizes her music on full display.


Taylor fascinates me, probably more than she should. The way she writes with bold honesty about her life and invites her listeners into it is unique and creates an experience of intimacy with listeners that is hard to achieve. Often, the experiences she describes are of a highly personal nature that would require a great deal of bravery for anyone to share publicly, but she does it deftly and with excellent craft.


As a writer, especially as one who recently wrote a book of short essays that includes accounts of some traumatic incidents in my own life, I empathize with how hard this is. However, as a prose writer, I have more words at my disposal and more room to explain the circumstances and emotions.


Songwriters and poets have a tougher job. They have fewer words and must choose the right ones in the right economy. Imagery must also carry heavy freight to create a world that poetry readers can easily enter.


All this becomes even harder when you are writing confessional poetry, sharing emotionally intense life experiences, traumatic moments, and profound, life-changing events.


So, this week, we will explore how to write confessional poetry inspired by Swift's ability to channel her emotions into her art. By being specific and including key concrete details about your experiences of loss and betrayal, you can create poetry that is not only deeply personal but also universally relatable.

Let's dive into the world of confessional poetry and learn how to harness the power of your own experiences to create impactful and meaningful poems.


The Power of Specificity in Poetry


The number one rule for writing confessional poetry is to be as specific as possible. As you think about the experience you want to describe, zero in on the most significant details that overwhelm your mind when you recall the incident you’re writing about.


Put yourself back in the moment. What sounds stand out? What visual images come to mind? Are there any prevailing smells?


When I was in high school, I had a life-changing conversation with someone that left me emotionally shattered. We were at a park having a picnic, and I was eating a seafood grinder. It was also a bright, sunny day, and the light was coming through the leaves at a particular slant that cast weird shadows on the ground.


I can still hear the words the other person spoke to me, and when I remember them, I taste cheese and fake crab and see those leaves.


The funny thing is this: the more specific you make your writing, the more universal it becomes.  


Embracing the specific in your poetry means recalling the minutiae of your experiences, from sensory memories to words spoken to your physical responses. These aren't just details but invitations to find common ground with your readers.


This approach isn't about airing every detail but choosing those that strike a chord and sing with emotion and authenticity. When you zero in on specificity, your poetry ceases to be just about you—it becomes a mirror, allowing readers to see your own experience so well that they also perceive themselves in it.


In this respect, writing confessional poetry is similar to writing narrative nonfiction. In your poetry, you are telling a story, which means you have the same tools as nonfiction writers at your disposal. You can create powerful, specific details, evoking the senses and images you most remember, and even incorporate dialogue.


You can also use point of view. You can speak to the reader directly, address another person who was involved in the situation or purely write for yourself.


Thinking about the various elements of craft and the tools in your poetic toolbelt can help you create a more specific work so your readers can identify with your experiences.


Tuning Into Your Emotions


Oof. This is where things can get rough. Crafting confessional poetry requires a deep dive into the well of your feelings, navigating the intricate emotions tied to your experiences.


This journey is not about skimming the surface, but it’s also not about delving into negativity. It’s about acknowledging the hope that your experiences have brought you and the emotional journey that brought you there.


It's crucial to remember that the strength of your poetry lies in the authenticity and rawness of your emotional expression. When you dare to be honest about your feelings, you allow your words to carry the weight of your truth. This truth isn't just yours—it speaks to the shared human condition, making your revelations deeply relatable to others.


Embracing your emotions in their entirety can be daunting, yet it's a decisive step toward creating poetry that touches hearts and leaves a lasting impact. Let your emotions guide your pen, and trust in the process of transforming your feelings into art.


Remember, there is beauty in vulnerability, and in the landscape of confessional poetry, your emotions are the brushstrokes that paint the most resonant picture.


Respecting Privacy and Preserving Dignity


Navigating the delicate balance of personal revelation and privacy in confessional poetry is a nuanced art. A poem you write to process traumatic moments and heal can quickly become a revenge piece if you don’t guard your emotions and focus primarily on craft.


Remember—there are other people involved in your experience besides you, and no matter what the current status of your relationship is, it's paramount to tread lightly on the souls and stories that have intertwined with ours. The essence of these poems often stems from deep, raw places, yet we must exercise compassion and discretion.


When writing confessional poetry, remember to cloak the identities and experiences of others with care. This isn't about diluting your truth but framing it in a way that respects the boundaries of intimacy and discretion. Consider how you'd feel if the roles were reversed, ensuring you're not inadvertently crossing lines that shouldn't be crossed.


It's possible to convey the intensity of your experiences without compromising the dignity of those who have journeyed with you, even when paths diverged. Crafting your narrative with sensitivity not only protects others but also deepens your work’s integrity and emotional resonance, allowing you to share your truth without causing unintended harm.


Again, this is where specificity becomes essential. When you omit names, places, and other identifying information, those details become the solid ground your readers need to enter the poem’s world. It’s more important to create a descriptive, emotionally resonant world.


To Share or Not to Share?


Deciding whether to unveil your confessional poetry to the world is akin to pondering if you should open a diary for everyone to read. It's a profoundly personal decision, laden with considerations of vulnerability and the potential for misunderstanding.


Before sharing, reflect on your words’ impact—not just on your audience, but on you and those who walk through your poems as characters. It's about weighing the beauty of connection against the possibility of exposing wounds anew. Will your revelations foster understanding and empathy, or might they reopen old scars for you and others?


At its core, poetry is about expression and healing. Sharing your work can be incredibly self-affirming and forge profound connections with readers who see their reflections in your words. However, it's also okay to choose silence and decide that some poems are solely for your healing journey.


This choice is yours alone, guided by introspection and your unique path as a poet. Consider your readiness and the ripples your words might create, and let that introspection guide your decision on whether to share your confessional poetry with the world.


Remember—choosing not to share your poetry doesn’t make you any less of a writer. The world tends to push publication and having something to show for your art, but this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Electing to keep your confessional poetry strictly for yourself is just as valid as choosing to put it out there for all to see.


Need Inspiration for Writing Confessional Poetry?


Diving into the depths of your own experiences to craft confessional poetry can be both exhilarating and daunting. If you find yourself standing on the precipice, unsure of how to take that leap into translating your personal stories into compelling poetry, try my free Ultimate Poetry Workbook.


It's an invaluable companion for poets seeking to navigate the intricacies of confessional poetry. With an array of prompts that encourage deep reflection, activities that challenge your creative boundaries, and exercises that hone your ability to capture the essence of your experiences, this workbook is designed to light the way.


Whether you're a seasoned poet or just beginning to dabble in the art, this workbook is a beacon, illuminating the path to authentic and powerful expression in your poetry. Embrace this opportunity to enrich your writing journey and discover the profound impact of turning your personal experiences into art.


Click the button below to grab a copy.





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