Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Emotional Honesty, Authenticity & Risk

My recent reading has raised questions about emotional honesty in poetry, a few questions about authenticity, and how these two both suggest some element of risk.

Emotional Honesty: I see this as to risk allowing too much of your personality, your emotional state, or your views to be visible to the world. For me, the risk comes in a few guises. Will people think I'm a terrible person if I write about terrible things? Will I be emotionally vulnerable if I let some aspect of my personality or emotional state show? Will I hurt others that I care about if I write poems that honestly reflect how I feel on a situation? Will those I care about "see" themselves in a poem even if I've changed the premise but allowed the honest emotion to seep into the poem? And perhaps a comical one, will someone apply some variation of psychoanalytical criticism to my work and proclaim to the world that I'm off my rocker? I feel as if I am a private person, but the poetry, even though not confessional, still (must) speak/s in someway about me. I think it is Lacan who speaks about how people envision an identity for us which may or may not agree with the identity we imagine for ourselves. So, if people imagine an identity based on a few (non)-representational poems, what will happen? (Yes, I'm interested in issues in identity.)

Authenticity: I know this is a critical issue, Plath's critics took her work to task for daring to speak of the Holocaust even though she wasn't a primary witness. As a writer who enjoys working with personas, I feel sometimes that I might be accused of not knowing of what I speak. Someone might take issue someday with the way I've represented a person from another life experience. I haven't written anything very risky thus far, but there is some subject matter that I'm working on which may push me in that direction. I want to be able to use different voices and try to see/imagine the world in different ways than I myself have experienced it.

I'm putting Sincerity and Authenticity by Lionel Trilling on my reading list. Anything else I should add to the list?

How do these ideas relate to what one reads? Well, I read Gold Cell by Sharon Olds the year before last and didn't care for the subject matter. Because of this, I hadn't explored more of her work. (Yes, I know that the poet/poems aren't the same, but we conflate them anyway. For example: Have you read any Yeats lately?) Well, Poetry this month has two poems by Olds that I like quite a bit. I've revised my opinion. I think I'll go look for some more of her work. Another book for the reading list.

Keep writing yourself into the world.


steve mueske said...

Hi, Amy. These are concerns of mine as well. If you haven't read Louise Gluck's book Proofs and Theories, you might add that to the list. The essay "Against Sincerity" addresses the issue of authenticity,and there are a number of other essays that approach that topic from other angles.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I wrote Olds last year asking her if she had work available for Hogtown. I'd recently read The Wellspring and found it pure camp entertainment. Why, I wondered aloud, does she fascinate and appall me? I talked it out some with Kent and we put her in a genre: she writes a Gothic poem. No ordinary moment is unshadowed by the great mystery, which is monstrous and delicious. Olds sent word through an assistant that she liked my letter but she had no poems to send.

Amy Unsworth said...

Hi Steve, Hey Glenn,

I haven't read Gluck's book, so thanks for the recommendation. The idea that poetry can be risky used to sound a little odd to me, until I started really trying to write about issues that are important to me; the type of issues that challenge my own ideas about my beliefs and my values. I'm aware it's not the same type of risks that firefighters and surgeons take, but there is certainly an emotional core to writing that I feel can be risky.

I know that when other writers talk about risk, they may not be talking about these exact issues. We can talk about risking failure by using new or previously untried forms, or by writing "experimental" verse, but these topics seem less interesting to me than the emotional risk.

I've not read much of Olds' work beyond Gold Cell. I'll add it to my spring break reading, as of now my book stack is getting rather tall.

Nice to see you around gentlemen!