Heather Bartlett: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Heather Bartlett
November 14, 2011
Does it bother you to be labeled as a confessional poet?
“Confessional,” in relation to poetry, seems to have become a dirty word, hasn’t it? Like the generation of girls who don’t want to call themselves feminists because they think it would mean that they hate men. It doesn’t bother me; I am a confessional poet. I write from experience. I write about the things I’ve done, the things I’ve witnessed, the things I’m looking for, the things I’ve lost. Is everything true? No. Is there truth in what the poems are looking for? I hope so.
Are you a feminist?
Why do you think the confessional poem is still important?
Because it’s urgent. It’s intimate. It shows the reader something she can recognize.
So, is your speaker you?
She’s always a version of me.
How is she different?
Sometimes she’s more patient. Sometimes she’s more aggressive. Sometimes she can look someone right in the eye, in a way that I can’t. And sometimes she hides.
You also write persona poems, speaking through the voice of a lover, an ex, a lover’s ex, Andrea Yates, even. Can you talk about that?
There’s something very freeing about inhabiting another voice, looking at experience through different points of view, exploring identity by trying on different identities. It’s also a way of getting at the real truth of the experience you are trying to write about. The way my speaker sees things happening will be very different than how her lover does, her ex, her lover’s ex. This helps to inform not only what each of these women want, but will ultimately reveal what my speaker really wants, who she is, what she needs to say. These voices are all versions of me, too.
A lover, an ex, a lover’s ex, okay. But Andrea Yates?
Andrea Yates is a voice in my chapbook, Bleeding Yellow Light. When I came to her, I had been searching for new subject matter. I was working at the New York Post, reading Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination, in which he takes on the voice of the man Susan Smith claimed kidnapped her children. I was collecting headlines and bits of articles, hoping it all might lead me somewhere new. I tried on a few different voices before this one, but Andrea Yates’ story was so fascinating and terrifying. I thought by working through this voice and lens, I might find a new voice of my own.
Do you write poems about your own nervous breakdowns?
Yes. In fact, the worse shape I’m in, the more I’m writing.
Do you have nervous breakdowns over writing poems?
Yes. This is what I call a writing cycle.
What are you working on now? Tell us about your most current breakdown.
I can tell you that it has involved an electric typewriter and all nine seasons of The X-Files.We’ll see what that leads to. Stay tuned.
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