News: Anecdotal Poetry?

2012-05-27 21:51:PM ago by jen.spruit

I recently got to know seven people very well, though I’ve yet to meet any of them in the flesh. You see, we took an online poetry class together. We spoke to each other (in poetry) about death, addiction, parenting, sex, jealousy, incompetence, and everything else. These people shared stories with me that we probably couldn’t have talked about face to face, because you don’t just go up to someone and say, “do you remember my drug addicted sister? Well, I was actually just a little bit happy when she was crushed in that car accident, just because it took away all the uncertainty, you know? She wasn’t going to be hanging around outside in winter peeing by my backdoor and asking to sleep in my car and telling me she had to blow this guy for money.” Most people don’t speak about their private experiences and the resulting emotions in this way, especially to the public at large. However, poetry is a fantastic medium for the things we cannot always easily say. In poetry, these stories often take the form of the anecdote.

Ted Kooser argues that the anecdote has become increasingly popular in the poetry of the last thirty years or so. Do we like these little stories? In assuming that the speaker of the poem is the author themselves, don’t we feel just a little bit more connected to someone? The anecdotal form of poetry fits with the confessional nature of our culture, the yes-I-did-that attitude that so many of us share. Yes, perhaps it’s the easy way out, but this stuff works. We want to hear that someone else felt those thoughts we couldn’t voice, or cared about this thing we thought no one else did. It’s comforting to know that we aren’t alone.

Is it art, or is it narcissism? Both are equally possible outcomes, but good poetry rises above the simple anecdote and includes the reader in a larger purpose. Like pornography, you know it when you see it.

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