By Amanda Addison
The Dream Songs by John Berryman: Although Berryman was a confessional poet -- a major subject of The Dream Songs is the suicide of Berryman’s father when the poet was 12-years-old -- he leaned towards writing obscure and intensely lyrical poetry (think Pound’s Cantos for example). Berryman also stuck to formalism in poetry at a time when free forms where taking the poetry world by force. If you enjoy Berryman, check out Nick Flynn, a poet often referred to as “post-confessional.”
Life Studies by Robert Lowell: Winner of the 1960 National Book Award for poetry, Life Studies is considered one of the most important volumes of confessional work. Divided into four sections, Life Studies combines poetry, prose poetry, and autobiography. A snapshot of Lowell the man, Lowell the poet, and the American culture this poetry masterpiece is not to be missed.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath: Anyone who talks to me for more than a minute knows that I have a serious literary hard-on for Plath’s confessional masterpiece, Ariel. Forget all you heard about this being the product of a broken heart and madness – Ariel is the penultimate example of literary brilliance. A meticulous writer and rewriter, Plath has been credited with writing these poems in quick succession. However she left copious drafts to testify to the fact that she worked her ass off on these poems. Shun the vintage Ariel that Ted Hughes produced – he reordered her poetry giving a much more suicidal slant. Ariel: The Restored Edition is out in paperback and contains Plath’s original ordering plus a facsimile of the manuscript.
The Awful Rowing Towards God by Anne Sexton: A friend and colleague of Plath, Sexton began writing poetry at the urging of a therapist and never looked back. Her poetry is confessional in that she wrote of personal experiences with candor. However, her poetry also reaches a universal feeling in the way she communicates on issues pertinent to women such as menstruation, abortion, sex, and motherhood. Her final collection, The Awful Rowing Towards God was published after Sexton’s death by suicide in 1974.
Heart’s Needle by William DeWitt Snodgrass: A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Snodgrass is still publishing poetry to this day (hooray – a confessional poet who didn’t suicide!). Although he does not consider himself to be a confessional poet per se, Snodgrass’s 1959 poetry collection Heart’s Needle inspired many confessional poets, especially Anne Sexton, by the intensely personal subject of the collection. Snodgrass wrote Heart’s Needle after losing his 3-year-old daughter in a divorce. The collection went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1960.