Gender typing in confessional poetry
The expression of a creative artist in literature manifests itself in various genres and each of these reflects in a specific manner, the writer's views and ideologies. Nevertheless it is poetry that embodies not merely concepts or philosophies but goes deeper as it emanates from the mind, heart and spirit of the creative artist.
A pertinent and pragmatic question is whether poetry is more natural/spontaneous to man or woman. Does gender play a significant role in this field? Although it is a complex question to answer, it might be stated that in the specific genre of confessional poetry, there is evidently gender typing at work.
In the confessional mode, the poet writes in a highly personal manner and lays bare her emotions, even her apprehensions. The inevitable fact of women being more emotional than men facilitates writing in the confessional style. While men feel generally reluctant to exhibit their emotions, women on the contrary make little effort in this aspect. Perhaps centuries of mental conditioning has caused men to bottle up their emotions in an attempt to appear strong and in control.
This paper is an attempt to consider the confessional poetry of three poets, which cuts across geographical boundaries and establishes the fact that there is the typing or dominance of Women's Writing in such poetry.
The Australian poet, Judith Wright, focussed attention on the intensely personal, especially in her early poetry. Her poems like `The Company of Lovers,' `Our Love is so Native' and event the anthologised `Bullocky' reflect her genuine articulation in the personal realm. These poems record her need for love and dependence on her partner. Perhaps her poem. `Woman to Man' best illustrates her emotional dependence on her mate, especially at a time when she is pregnant with child. She refers to the mystery of the unborn child in her womb, which labours in the darkness and anticipates its arrival to life through birth.
The American poet, Sylvia Plath, is a significant confessional poet of the Post World War II period. The death of her father, whom she worshipped, when she was only nine was a traumatic event and figured as an obsession in her poetry. Her marriage to the British poet, Ted Hughes, failed to redeem her from her neurotic temperament and she committed suicide when she was a little over thirty years of age even though she reached the peak of her creative powers.
Plath's famous poem `Daddy' is certainly one of the most striking poetic achievements of the confessional mode. Written in the autumn of 1962 the poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue. The victim of an Electra Complex she hates and admires her father a the same time. The conflicting emotions restrict her life to such an extent that she first tries to join him through suicide and later through marriage to a man who shares many of her father's qualities.
The poetry of the Indian poet, Kamala Das, a bilingual writer is yet another illustration of gender typing in confessional poetry. Das is well known for her bold and forthright expression. An acute obsession with love and the use of the confessional mode form the prominent features of her writing. One of the poems in which this style appears conspicuous is the poem entitled `The Old Play House' in which she castigates her companion for his insensitive attitude.
In her poem, `My Grandmother's House' she reminds her husband that once she was also loved and was proud of herself and her identity although her husband's chauvinism had driven her to desperation to seek love at least in "small change."
Confessional poets like Judith Wright, Sylvia Plath and Kamala Das thus use their particular individual experiences for the following reasons - to record the immediacy of their experience and its specific nature, to suggest that such experiences might be relevant to women universally and to possibly explore ways and means of transforming them into the positive.
Viewed dispassionately we might in conclusion state that, confessional poetry is a monopolistic field for poetry by women and such a genre requires qualities like sensitivity, understanding and empathy, but most of all a passion to liberate oneself from the complexity of life and male domination towards a life of hope, liberty and meaning.
Department of English
University College of Arts & Social Sciences
KLINSA KURIEN, APARNA GOSWAMI
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