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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When is a Poem True?

Poetry Daily Prose Feature this week is an essay by Lawrence Raab entitled "Should Poems Tell the Truth?" (originally in New Ohio Review, Fall 2014). This is a question I have wondered, moreso when I've found out that an experience described by a poet was fiction (and I felt betrayed) than when I've written a poem that isn't based on fact (and haven't felt like I was betraying anyone at all). This paradox has interested me over time. Apparently the same is true for Lawrence Raab, who quotes Paul Valery and then ruminates further:

'As Paul Valery writes in "Poetry and Abstract Thought": "A poet's function—do not be startled by this remark—is not to experience the poetic state: that is a private affair. His function is to create it in others." Yet young writers are often startled by that remark. The poem is made for the reader, and is sent out into the world to do its work as best it can, and without any intervention from the author. As Richard Wilbur has said, the poem is "a kind of machine of feeling which other people can use." The rest is private.'

Raab explores specific poems and their relationships to historical fact, and how that affects the reader, and what the moral implications are. If this subject has ever interested you, check out this essay

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