Confessions about the Confessional

The Art of Losing

Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

So many things seem filled with the intent

To be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent,

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! My last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went,

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

When we read this poem last class, I was struck by how confessional this poem was. I related to the speaker’s detachment from their losses, and related to the subtext that in actuality, the speaker is not over these losses. But one goal I set for myself in my last post was to write more confessional poetry, especially in a narrative context.

The interesting aspect of this poem to me is how detached the speaker seems to be. The lines “I lost my mother’s watch. And look! My last, or / next-to-last, of three loved houses went, ” are broken up by punctuation that stops any emotional outburst. The period, explanation point, and line breaks halt any continuous thoughts. I really appreciate how the form messes with the content, as opposed to aligning with the content.

My latest poem “involuntary sigh upon taking a long-awaited bite” is the most confessional poem I’ve submitted for workshop. I’ve tried to write more confessional work in the past, but I’ve been afraid of people critiquing it and I’ve been wondering how to write a confessional without spilling my guts and making the content matter more than the form, or writing with a ton of cliches. This poem is a baby step. Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Art of Losing” lets me know that being confessional doesn’t always mean being sentimental, or laying out all of the cards on the table. It means speaking a personal truth, which is what I strive to do in my poetry, through different lenses.

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