How much of the truth do we tell in our writing? Do we allude to it, or do we spell it out, giving the reader a raw view of our very personal life? Are we emotionally naked, revealing all, or are we hiding in the darkened corners of our lives cloaked in subterfuge?
I’ve written poems that are truthful to the emotion, but the facts are skewed. Am I lying? Does lying matter if it’s literature? Prose writers write about themselves within their characters. And poets can choose to do the same.
I’ve heard poets say that everything we write must be truthful. If the tree was a Japanese maple, we can’t change it to a willow. Another argument is that events in our poems must be sequential, linear, or we are lying. I disagree, unless we’re writing memoir, we can change the facts to create a better poem.
More importantly than getting the facts down correctly, is our emotional honesty. To portray our feelings accurately, that is what I consider poetic honesty. The tone, the language, the words we choose to best represent our feelings, that is the honesty that matters.
Consider your audience and your intent. Is it more important to protect the relationships in your life, or your self-image, or to tell your truth? Do you edit yourself right out of your poetry? Do you hold back just enough that you don’t reveal yourself?
If you harbor secrets, are they best left on pages stuffed in the back of your desk drawer? Are there some poems that are just too revealing to share? What is your responsibility to the reader and to yourself? If you’ve written about your mother or your friend, if you’ve revealed something about your partner, can you forgive yourself in the name of literature, or have you crossed an ethical boundary you can’t live with?
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all. Oscar Wilde
And . . .
Ask yourself these questions:
What are my fears about revealing my truest self through my writing?
When have I purposely hidden the truth in my writing?
When have I been the most vulnerable in my writing? What did that feel like? How was it received?