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Sorceress

I think that poetry is a way of telling the truth by concealing certain things. You don't say black is black. I believe that every writer leaves a bit of what he thinks of himself in his writings. So while no one else can make out that he is a certain way, a certain fingerprint of emotion that is his is left in what he writes.

Sylvia Plath was definitely trying to let out some suppressed sentiments in her poetry. But was she maddened by what she wrote than the other way round? You've definitely left me thinking.

Susie from Philly

Dittos, Lance. The only truth is in fiction, and fiction is made out of lies.

julia

I dunno - Ted Hughes didn't get a lot better at noticing the signs when he knew what he was looking for, did he?

Makes a whole lot more sense if he wasn't looking.

OutOfContext

I really think this is the intellectual question of our time, if I may be so pompous. Evidence of physical reality is so malleable, especially in the visible arts now, that trusting the artist for reporting the facts becomes a fool's pursuit. Of course, for me it's all entertainment and I have a solipsistic view of art--it's all analogous to me. I've always looked for an internal consistency in a work,which is all that it takes for me to take it seriously, and then applied it to my own purposes--assimilated and converted into my own currency of thought. Perhaps that comes from being an inveterate skeptic and a nihilist at heart. It is the only way I can enjoy without reserve.

Rana

As someone who writes creative nonfiction, I think the concept that keeps me grounded is that of witnessing - that is, I am honor-bound to be as truthful in the big picture and as accurate in the details as I can. But creative (or literary) nonfiction is inherently different than a daily diary: like all documentaries, it's digested truth, written for a purpose.

Given that all our lives are wrapped up in storytelling - to ourselves, to others, about others, about ourselves - I think arguing that this makes poems fictional rather than nonfictional is somewhat beside the point. Nonfiction and fiction aren't absolute terms; they are relative ones.

What makes fiction different from nonfiction is the witnessing; there is a witness in the latter, a witness of events that did occur, of people and places that did or do exist. And even fiction is not pure imagination; the inspiration comes from somewhere, and the people and places and events depicted are held up against what the writers and readers know from their own experiences to see if they make sense.

But, yeah, about childhood as a source for writing. I can't accurately witness for much of my childhood, having been a child who was not a writer for the duration, and so I tend to avoid writing about it. (I've never liked, nor appreciated, the "write about your childhood" prompts they love to stuff into how-to-write books.)

Rana

I have to add, too, as a person whose creative nonfiction is not just memoir, but about witnessing place, and the nonhuman world, I get edgy about the notion that it can all be reduced down to human imagination.

Even if the "truths" I write are inherently human truths, that doesn't mean that the things I write about don't have an existence, and a right to exist, without my writing about them. Just because they come to you, the reader, through my human filter, doesn't mean that they are simply my creations. The writing, the filter, is - but the subjects are not.

Kit Stolz

I take your point about the truth of fiction, or in this case poetry, but "nobody remembers anything" is too broad. Of course we shape what we remember into stories, and commonly those stories overwhelm whatever it is that actually happened in our minds, so that we cannot remember the exact circumstances. But if nobody remembered anything, we wouldn't have those stories in the first place.

It strikes me that often really good storytellers also happen to have really good memories, and minds to match; cf., John Muir. Are there any other good examples we can think of?

Matt

Thanks for the Gluck poems. "Snow," which I've never read before, seems like a response to that most-anthologized of poems, Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz."

Which one offers a more damning portrait of the father? I'm having a hard time making a decision -- I'd say that Roethke's poem presents an image of the father that is both more damning and more redeeming than Gluck's poem. And both are great.

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