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Why Not Preface a Poem with This Really Happened?

When a poet prefaces a poem with “this really happened” a few things are in motion.

The poet often breaks his or her flat tone pattern, or poet’s voice, and has the most emphatic inflected speech of their entire performance. Body language often gets most animated and natural and says pay attention. This all throws off the curve and makes the rest flatter by comparison.

It suggests I would care, as an audience member, if something is autobiographical. (Because such prefaced poems are not about history of someone else that “really happened” but some moment of direct experience of the author.)

It throws emphasis on truth, and suggests all else said, before and after, is falsehood and fudged.

It braces the scene for, not artistry, but therapy.

It honours the relating of observation verbatim and treats this as sacred, unquestionable, and often goes along with remarks about how the poem arrived finished, and yet it often feels less so than companion poems.

By framing as “it happened just like this” the author says things are knowable and can only happen one way and the author perceived it rightly, which rolls up my buddhist, all thing-are-unknowable defences, which muffles what is said.

It indicates this “actual seeing” was an exciting and marked state.

What follows is often a dull or blunt or particularly narratively bare-boned story, or a is a story that would be indistinguishable from the others by craft, had the person not flagged it as “actual events”.

It distracts into arguments of motivation for publishing/performing particular subjects. It begs the question of why, as a writer, faff about with things you don’t actually care about, or that don’t excite the interest of the writer. Why present other things?

Lastly, even tho at any stage of life or career, one may declare such a thing, it is more the mark of beginners to say so. It is often a hallmark of starting writers to begin with self. The first book is often impelled by becoming a parent or losing a parent, dealing with the birth or death of a child, then the next book becomes about out there relating to out there triangulated thru self. What does that say about my expectations of what writing is to become?

There’s an embedded assumption that poetry starts with therapy, with working though the personal and “true” and moves with writing experience from non-fiction to fiction, from raw to cooked but linear paths are constructions.

There seems to be a parallel with painting. You start with still life, move to portraits, then the animated world and lastly come back to still life and self-portraits with a new depth of skills. It is the most accessible and the hardest and easiest both.

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  1. Sort of like “talking to the camera” in the movies,
    although Ferris Beuhler got away with it. Comedy allows that sleight. Any lengthy intro. triggers the
    ‘mistrust of audience’ alarm, too. Frequently
    accompanies “radio essay poetry”.

    Some find the us of ‘like’ in metaphor repugnant in
    poetry, because you should never apologize for your
    own mythologies. I try to keep with that, unless
    the structure or the tone needs it.

    Similarly, at the tail end of the poem,
    we have editorializing.
    That one I keep fighting to keep out.
    Any conclusion has to be badass pithy,
    or turned to surprise.

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