I have always felt that poetry should transcend biography – that even if a poem is transparently autobiographical in origin, it should have a surface that takes it beyond the personal, a hardness as a made object, such that it ceases to be one’s own and becomes everybody’s – becomes public. There are many ways to do this, and I believe these constitute the art of poetry. A fellow poet, critiquing some of the new poems in The Touchstone, remarked in a letter to me that some readers might be disappointed at not being given “the whole story… plot, narrative, facts, emotions” behind the poems: she posited that the “expectation of gossip” is human, and legitimate in a reader of poetry. I wrote back that I distrusted the overly personal, or personally-specific, in poetry, and that instead of the whole story, I thought a poem should detach itself from the biographical facts and deliver the emotional essence of the experience as a distillate – through image, sound, metaphor, and whatever formal devices best serve the purpose – evoking mood and feeling in the way that a piece of music does. This view and practice may not always be appreciated by a reading public that has extended its hunger for confessional narrative beyond prose memoir to the personal lyric. But I must write from my own sense of what a poem is.
- Robyn Sarah, discussing her GG-winning collection My Shoes are Killing Me, over at ARC Poetry Magazine. You can read a longer excerpt here, and the whole thing in ARC's forthcoming Winter 2016 issue.
You can also read my interview with Robyn, about My Shoes are Killing Me and the five poems from the collection we ran in PRISM 53.2, here.