Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Truth in Poetry – My Own Thoughts
In creative non-fiction, writers are always being blasted with the question of truth. Did that really happen? Just like that or is that just how you remember it?
In poetry we are liberated from that earnest, sometimes too earnest, quest. We can write persona poems, we can write memoir-like poems that may or not be true, or we can write pure fantasy. Our choice. When I read Philip Levine’s work I initially considered it to be true, all true, but I was told it isn’t and realized it doesn’t matter. The poetics are in the writing, not the truth. Readers may assume a poem in first person is true, but it doesn’t have to be any truer than a roman a clef or even a fantasy novel.
When I wanted to write a poem about a memory in the grange hall in Freedom, Maine, I realized it didn’t have to be exactly true even though I remembered it well. I remembered my thoughts about it, not the details. So I made up the details and rewrote the poem in third person. It’s very true for me and I gave it a base of solid facts. It happened, pretty much the way I wrote it. My middle name is Jane; my mother’s middle name is Francis. The other names I made up, but they are typical of the time and place.
Most of my writing about growing up in Maine is written in the first person. It was me who thought my cat was dead and then found out it came alive again. It was me to walked past marigolds in the church on Mother's Day without picking up one to take home. It was me in the Grange Hall, too, but because I could not accurately remember details I wanted to include; I made them up. The details such as the names, the kinds of pies, the time of day are all there and they are true enough - for poetry.
Posted by Ellie O'Leary at 9:09 AM