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June 2009

Back in 1959 M. L. Rosenthal first used the term "confessional" in a review of Robert Lowell's Life Studies. Rosenthal says that earlier tendencies towards the confessional had the poet wearing a"mask" which hid the poet's "actual face" but that "Lowell removes the mask. The poem's speaker is definitely Lowell.

The confessionalist label was then applied to other poets of the time like John Berryman, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, and William De Witt Snodgrass.

Confessional poems are not so much defined by their subject matter, but by their approach to it. These poems might include personal details from the authors' life. If these poems allow the poet some self-revelation through the act of the writing, then it may offer the same to the reader.

Shaindel Beers poems in A Brief History of Time certainly have something of the confessional to them, but in the poem for this month's prompt, "A Man Walks Into A Bar," I am more interested in the confession of the poem.

Confession does the soul good. Well, so it is said. Beyond the religious explanation, there is also the psychological effect of unburdening oneself by confession.

In several interviews (see this prompt's accompanying blog entry), Beers says her poem is a kind of apology, but it is also both confessional in style and a confession.

So, our prompt for the month was to do your soul some good by writing a confession in the confessional style.

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


You asked me for a love poem.

We’re listening to a pale girl with a nose-ring
recite how he whispered into her auburn hair
and gazed into her hazel eyes, and ran his fingers
down her black-mesh stockings, so her whole body....

Whoever designed these black metal chairs
had no love for human anatomy.

The poet was in whole-body flight to ecstacy.
I glanced around the room, men and women
fidgeting in their seats. Was it just the black mesh
digging into my thighs, or the unasked-for

intimacy? What do I care for her sex-life? My
body crying out from its black metal chair.

How can I give you a love poem?

Taylor Graham


Bits of color flash in the palm, fingers tighten, loosen twist and
twitch in nervous candor
Something in brown and tremulous hands -- held airily or softly or
waved carelessly
Hands sit, not quiet in the lap, the nails white, now moving over a
silver chair arm
One to reach past the stumps and test the black wheels, gripping
chrome and squeezing
Power in the tendons. One hand stays and squeezes the bits of color paper
Now, the wheels move in arcs – the arms in piston pumps – the paper is
thrown, or falls.

We run to catch it – pick it up, give it back – the chair is circling
and we see a picture
drab, wretched persons near a wall, children in dirt and soldiers smiling, armed
A wartime thought – not gray but miserable, yes, a picture of fear in misery
Two soldiers, proud, brown and khaki clothes that say America, faces
proclaiming youth
Our acquaintance in the chair is tall, smiling for the kids, dirty
rabble and broken bricks.

The chair has found its power sliding graceful to our feet, not
reaching but speaking

"It is a test, how can we learn to move but never walk, to ride the
arms and scorn pity
It is a test to learn acceptance and every day I print a new copy of
the old picture…….."

The chair it spun agile and adroit – we gasped, watched it's speed in
bright daylight

continue walking shamefully, sunlit skies are not the color of awkward guilt.
At home we find we lost the picture, oh well, no sepia war here. White
wine, trout bleu.

Jack Strahan


Stranger, when you smirked as I went past
chasing my daughter down Sleeping Bear Dunes,
why did you think it’d be funny to call out “stroke victim”?

Friend, I’ll admit that lately I’m more feast than famine,
but didn’t you hear the two of us laughing
as if neither one would ever die?

I couldn’t blame you if you’d said
“Man who can never love a woman.”
My ex and future ex have taught me well.

“Booze artist”--past master, that’s me.
“Dangerous driver” (see “booze artist” above).
Hell, even the sand under my feet might know as much.

“Thankless son.”
“Holder of grudges.”
“Destroyer of tomorrows.”


But, sir, what claim you think you have
against my circulatory sanctity
lies null and void at the top of that last dune—

see, those are my footprints there,
rounding the top with my child’s
and I’ve got gravity on my side as I always have,

going down, heart pounding all the way.



I still can't get over your message,
it just keeps coming back to me
At times I'm feeling okay
but then it will hit me again
and I will start feeling sad&low
You told me to find somebody else,
since you'll just hurt me
After what you have shown me,
you want me to just walk away
It feels really awful
I thought we shared something special,
yet its just so easy for you
to cut me off just like that
I know in time I'll be okay,
its not anytime soon
but eventually I'll get there
and when I finally do,
I hope I can smile, look straight in your eyes,
and say "thank you, I'm over you".

Aisey Ong


Roofed by Japanese temples and
Artificial light we stood. No rising

Sun from the east here. Rather from the east
wing. Our roof, as ornate as a geishas

Conversation is deceivingly simple,
Curled up at the four corners like a sultan's

Slippers towards a God though whose, I
Could not tell. I stood with a small worshipping

Mass whose saviour must be a giant eye
As the talisman's around their necks

Implied. Only I and my Buddha boy
Stood naked necked. His naked nape, bowed like

A lover's top lip and his shorn head, in
Danger of colliding with my hip, aimed

At our interest. A lady of the mass
With a voice like a bugled blare to send

The weary off to war, spoke. The small pool
Of water at the foot of the temple

We all penetrated with a glare (the
East know the importance of water, so

It's said). At the pools edge she read aloud
The sign: "Do not throw pennies as they might

Endanger the fish." What fish we all wondered?
Then: "Did I just see one scurry by?"

The question sent us all on a journey
And the ladies, camera eyes bouncing

Like bewildered demi-gods against
Ancient mountains, were off on the hunt:

"Do fish 'scurry'?"
"Is 'scurry' the word?"
"Who still says 'scurry'?"
"Well, what do fish do?"

The leaves of the Bodhi tree tickled his
Head, I could see. For silently, with fixed glare,

And all the aplomb of a cherry trees leaf
As it alights from its place, he whispered: "swim".

In an instant the light danced off the water
And rose and congealed a tight ball like a dying

Star. It ascended my face where the white
Heat thrust through my nostrils and the light

Flashed out my eyes. I staggered for a moment.
Blind and frightened, I leaned upon a pillar

And speculated: The superlative artist paints
Mount Fuji with a mere stroke of the wrist.

Patrick Brown


The early birds chirp
A malignant squawk
Bent right-knee perch
But the worm is reserved
For local nightlife hipsters
We chirp in brick alley joints
With the cigarette butts
On the oily pavement
Pre-cover charge early
Where middle aged veterans
Pay a wrinkle every week
To forget who they are each night
When the would-have-been jocks
Salivate, clutching sweaty mugs
Back washed beer and condensation
     Sagging bed room eye stupor
But too drunk to love
I waste time in rest rooms
Tho I find no rest there
This one in particular
Smells like the breath
Of a vulgar stranger
Sharpie and car key grafitti
Stalls of stoner jargon
And lesbian death threats
One has much to learn
With nowhere to dry wet hands
I read of who loves who
And who has a small cock
I now know who to call
For a real good time
Early enough for
Amplified feedback screech
And reverberated spasms
they call sound check
I have pitied every opening act
Those shaggy out-of-towners
Half open shifty eyes
Dashing into hello
And goodbye grin
But the kids are easy to entertain
My generation grovels and growns
Never a real sense of revolution
Until it was too late
So we came early tonight
To find one
To drink enough to laugh
To hear enough to talk about
To seek out a rythm
To the beat of our hearts
Worn on our sleeves
Like a bad fashion statement
With a question mark
Alluding to nothing
But asking anything
And it stops and starts
At each sip and smile
Hail the hipsters
They come marching
Between slumped shoulders
And acne scars
Hunched over instrument cases
To exaggerate talent
Even worse,
Their ladies follow
Wobbling fawn legs
Flat feet in high heels
Expelling the scent
Fragrant clouds of chemical
A flock of buzzed sheep
As shepherds take stage
They have no where to put the music
Their purses full...with hand creams
And credit cards and lip gloss
Manicured hand feeding
The arrogant men that bite
And chew the loneliness
I've forgot what we were here for
In my transitional haze
No good could come of this
Another band, another song
Another series of disappointmens
In a brick alley joint
Now standing room only
The early birds could fly away
Had our wings not been clipped

Joani Winterberg