In this bold defense of so-called confessional poetry, Alan Williamson shows us that much of the best writing of the past twenty-five years is about the sense of being or having a self, a knowable personal identity. The difficulties posed by this subject help explain the fertility of contemporary poetic experiment—from the jaggedness of the later work of Robert Lowell to the montage-like methods of John Ashbery, from the visual surrealism of James Wright and W. S. Merwin to the radical plainness of Frank Bidart. Williamson examines these and other poets from a psychological perspective, giving an especially striking reading of Sylvia Plath.
Williamson discusses some problems involved in self-analytic poetry—the ambiguous question of universality, the difficulties of objectifying one’s own personality, and the perhaps greater difficulties of attempting a poetry that is inward but not personal. He takes up the poets individually, characterizing their work and its development and offering balanced, considered judgments on particular poems. Displaying a remarkable grasp of American postwar culture, he places the poetry within the broad setting of contemporary events and dominant national sentiments.
The problematic modern self is a much discussed topic. This is the first book to use it as a lens for examining contemporary poetry, and it proves a powerful lens indeed.