This post, which has been slightly revised, was first published in 2012, on my blog, Neon and Rainbows, which I no longer update.
This is a subject which has come up for me before, and I recently discussed this with a friend, via Facebook.
I felt that it deserved more attention, in the form of a blog post.
We all understand that novels contain fictional characters and events, but yet may contain many autobiographical elements.
Why, then, do so many people find it difficult to appreciate that fictional characters can also be used in poetry?
I do write mainly autobiographical poems, increasingly so – and these are gradually becoming more personal/confessional, as I find it impossible to “hold back” – but I still write what I call “character poems”.
They don’t have to be about me – or someone else I know, or even a celebrity or historical figure. This doesn’t make the poems “less real”, as the emotions, and aspects of the characters – as in prose fiction – will often be very real. It’s a different approach to writing, and an alternative way in which to explore various issues, emotions, and questions. Poetry is full of metaphors. Why not the occasional fictional, or even semi-fictional – or semi-autobiographical/semi-biographical – character?
I wouldn’t write only in rhyme – or exclusively in free verse, either.
I’m inspired by using a variety of poetic styles and techniques. I also write prose fiction – novel in, very slow, progress. In fact, I originally wrote stories, and wasn’t particularly interested in poetry, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why it would feel so natural for me to create fictional characters. Why wouldn’t such characters find their way into my poetry, from time to time?
I can only say that I try to ensure that all of my writing is authentic, but sometimes I can and do use “poetic licence”, in order to achieve this.
Truth is not merely factual. Truth is something much deeper, and more fascinating.
Next question: Does the reader need to know which of my own, or anyone else’s, poems are based upon fact, and which contain fictional elements?
Doesn’t knowing exactly what a writer is talking about actually shatter the illusion on occasions? Taking music as an example: Ever been disappointed to discover that those lyrics, to which you related on a particularly deep level, were about a completely different subject to the you had assumed? Possibly something quite mundane.
Sometimes writers don’t even know what they mean by a particular phrase, but it just comes to them, and they can’t explain why or where from.
Sometimes we start out thinking that we’re writing about one subject, but feel, on reviewing our own work, that we’ve actually written about something completely different. Do we need to explain all of this, for each poem? Does it help to do so, or does it destroy some of the magic?
There is a whole creative process at work, when we are writing poetry.
Although I don’t deny that it is sometimes interesting to know what inspired someone to write a particular piece, I still believe that poems should “speak for themselves”, most of the time.
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