“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.” Wrote the author
of ‘Bell Jar’. Through this line or for that matter, every work by Sylvia Plath we get an insight into her
psyche. The technique of expressing one’s deepest emotions in their work is called ‘confessionalism’.
Origin of confessional poetry- USA
Confessionalism or confessional poetry is a term that emerged in the 1950s and 60s and is associated with poets like Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and W. D. Snodgrass. This style of writing knocked the entire literary community with a feather. Works dealing with private emotions, drawn from very personal life experiences was something not known or comprehensible by an average reader. Be it Sylvia Plath’s ‘Daddy’ where she talks about her father and conflicts with him or John Berryman’s ‘Dream songs’ with him talking about sensitive topics like suicide, we find an approach to poetry not covering under the sheets of metaphors or euphemisms.
Though these poems were head-on, the craftsmanship was still remarkable. Even so, the poets were not fixated on the technicalities, they did to lengths to make their compositions beautiful. There was no standard rhyme or rhythm, but we do see a lot of literary devices. These devices do not soften the blow of the words in any way, they are used just to help the readers see and feel what they are reading. History of Confessionalism in India Confessionalism, being a new, strong form of poetry crept its way into India and became a big part of Indian literature, or feminist Indian literature to be more precise. Post independence when Indians were still figuring out how to run and survive in a free country there was a clash between communities and sexes.
Even though free India gave its women the same privileges as its men, Indians were not able to cope with these new norms. This led to a dichotomy between the genders, which led to the emergence of many female poets who protested using their pens and wrote in a confessional style. Confessionalism in India Literature was a very vast genre, and many writers joined the movement.
Kamala Das as a confessional poet
One such great Indian confessional poet was Kamala Das. Das was born in Thrissur, Malabar Coast in British India which is now in Kerala. Das was heavily inspired by Plath’s writing style as she tried similar things in her works. Kamala Das’ confessional poems revolutionised the Indian literary scene as no woman had ever talked so openly about things that were considered taboo. She brought forth the uncomfortable truth of being a woman in that day and age. Her poems carry the themes of an identity crisis, being a female poet, the disorientation one feels when trapped in the cycle of self and society, and the most infamous of them all female sexuality. Kamala Das in her poems ‘My Grandmother’s House’ or ‘Summer in Calcutta’ talks about her lost childhood and the feeling of isolation due to that.
Sarojini Naidu and Confessional Poetry
Another such dynamic confessional poetess was Sarojini Naidu known as ‘The nightingale of India’. She wrote differently from Das as confessional poems by Sarojini Naidu captured life and womanhood in a different light. Naidu, who was also a political activist, included topics unique to India. Themes of confessionalism in Naidu’s poetry included casteism, sexism, and cultural discrimination. Her poems show her contempt for colonialism and the importance of freedom.
She uses vivid imagery to show the sad beauty of real rural Indian women. Her poems ‘Bangle seller’ and
‘Palanquin bearer’ shows the pain and beauty of an Indian woman, it paints a beautiful picture of how the lives of these women change when they move through different phases of their lives. Naidu found beauty in regular things, she was a curious onlooker and she painted ordinary things in an extraordinary light.
Branches of Confessionalism
There have been many debates and discussions about confessionalism in poetry, some believe it to be revolutionary while others argue that poetry should be an escape from personality and not a dive into it. This style of writing became unpopular in the 1970s but gave birth to a different style that is very popular today. Some present forms of confessional poetry include slam poetry and performance poetry. Slam poetry, just like confessional poetry is personal and in the first person however, it also includes the elements of drama and other genres. It’s called ‘Slam’ because the audiences decide if they want to accept or reject a poem. So, even though confessional poetry is not popular anymore, parts of it still form a very big part of literature and popular culture. Modern and postmodern generations have a chaos within them and are looking everywhere for catharsis.
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