Essay

Based on a True Story. Or Not.

Does it matter if a poem that seems autobiographical is actually fictional?

by Kathleen Rooney
Based on a True Story. Or Not.
Lars Plougmann

The first time I saw the poet Brian Russell read was at the Dollhouse Series in Chicago in December 2012, although his reading was not really a reading at all. He had all of his poems memorized, and delivered them in a direct and unpretentious style, saying each word with emphasis while looking up and out at the audience in a way that more closely resembled an autobiographical monologue à la Spalding Gray.

The poems were from his wonderful debut collection, The Year of What Now, winner of the 2012 Bakeless Prize. Virtually all of them are written from the first-person perspective of a husband, and are addressed to a specific “you” who is the husband’s wife, suffering from a potentially deadly disease, presumably cancer. Like Gray, Russell appears—both in his in-person delivery and on the page—to inhabit the words so deeply that I assumed the poems were written from his own experience of having a spouse diagnosed with and treated for a possibly terminal illness. For example, in the poem “Lightness Arises from the Usual Gravity,” he writes of “the social worker slash / amateur psychologist assigned to us” that “I’m sure there are a hundred other / couples like us in this hospital / alone   clearly we appear to her a common / strain of the same basic devastation.” I thought the “I” must certainly be Russell. But I was mistaken.

To be clear, Russell himself never once indicated that this was the case. The presumption of autobiography was entirely my own, but I am not alone. When I emailed him to confess my mistake, he was sympathetic but unsurprised, and wrote back that the first time he read from the book, “someone came up to me beforehand and said they were very sorry to hear about my wife and hoped that she was okay. She was standing right next to me at the time, and I was like, yeah she’s right here.” Ever since then, in an attempt to head off any confusion, Russell begins his readings with “a quick and general statement about the book’s narrative arc” and makes a point of calling the narrator “the husband.”

“It’s not my intention to trick anyone,” he says. “After readings, I’ve had people tell me very difficult personal stories they were reminded of based on one poem or another. In every case, they’re more interested in that I got the experience right and don't care that I’m not the husband.”

Tom Sleigh, in his judge’s introduction, writes that Russell’s work “doesn’t parade the autobiographical in your face, though the conventions seem at first to be autobiography.” This idea of “seeming” invites the reader to think about how works of art—especially poetic ones, where autobiography is often assumed—are received and acclaimed when they are billed as being “Based on a True Story,” or not. How do we read a poem differently when the poet’s authority comes from the recounting and shaping of a personal experience versus the adept use of rhetoric and pure—or almost-pure—imagination? Does the fact that Russell’s poems are fiction diminish their power or impact?

In his (largely positive) review in the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin says yes, maybe their impact is diminished. In one of my favorite poems in the book, “Preface,” which presents the prospect of picking out clothes for the spouse’s funeral, Russell writes, “I don’t want to think about it   about going / through the closet  through all the clothes / I told you you didn’t need” which sends the speaker back into a memory:

new year’s eve in Chicago  my god
do you remember how cold it was that year
standing outside the bar with
everyone we knew   we weren’t ready
for another year   you couldn’t stop
shaking   I couldn’t get a cab   we were still
warm with whiskey   the pure
happiness of being young but old
enough to know it

Here, Ulin claims that “the tension between the confessional voice and our knowledge that what it is describing didn’t really happen, is too substantial, and the poem collapses under its own narrative weight.” That particular poem is one that made me tear up when I heard Russell recite it, even though I knew that the events described therein had never happened. I was able to imagine that task—dressing a dead spouse for the last time you’d ever see her—vividly thanks to his words; I could feel the terrible abjection that would come with such a responsibility. Ulin’s critique reminds me of how sometimes, when I show Rilke’s “Song of the Little Cripple at the Street Corner” to creative writing classes, some students ask whether Rilke really was disabled. This is a fair question. Yet when I say no, he wasn’t, and tell them that this is a persona poem, some of them say they don’t like it and can’t relate because Rilke himself was not “a cripple.” This reaction always seems a catastrophic failure of imagination and empathy. It doesn’t seem like a bridge too far to imagine that burying a spouse would be devastating, that being a social outcast through no fault of your own would be demoralizing.

Perhaps we should consider that the aim of poems that employ fiction may be not only to engage us emotionally—in a manner that various readers will find either moving or fraudulent—but also to ask us to assess our expectations. In the case of Russell, these are lyric poems but with a narrative arc, and though they are rooted in true feeling, the incidents are almost entirely fabricated. But “fiction” is not synonymous with “falsehood.”

So while I disagree with Ulin, my point is not to take issue with his interpretation, which is intelligent and understandable. My point, rather, is that Russell’s poems—and others like them—provide an occasion to think about how our understanding of a poet’s biographical particulars affect our reception. Reasonable readers will disagree, of course, on what this reception should be, and Russell’s book can be taken as a provocation to engage in compelling thought experiments: What if we found out that Wilfred Owen hadn’t actually fought in World War I? Would his condemnation of “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori” be any less moving if we did not know that he was killed at the age of 25 in November 1918, just one week before the Armistice? Or what if we found out that the collection Black Aperture, about the author’s brother’s suicide, a finalist for the National Book Award, was totally made up and that Matt Rasmussen was an only child who not only didn’t have a brother who killed himself, but didn’t have a brother at all? Would it matter if Patricia Lockwood, author of the phenomenal viral poem “Rape Joke,” had not been raped? 

In short, if we are angered, confused, or disappointed upon discovering that a poem we took as autobiographical is not, then whose liability is that? If we feel as though we’ve somehow been cheated, is that on us? I’d argue that it probably is. Every text has a narrator or speaker, and we assume at our peril that any given “I” either is the narrator or is even closely associated with some poetic persona the narrator is crafting as an alter ego. 

A caveat: I am not trying to excuse (because they are inexcusable), or even really talk about, literary hoaxes such as those perpetrated by JT LeRoy, James Frey, Nasdijj, various fake Holocaust memoirists, and their ilk. Rather, what is of interest is how, if we are reading published literary prose, we have a reasonable expectation of being told up front—on the cover, most likely, or in the table of contents if it’s a magazine—whether or not something is fictional. Such labels are rarely present with poetry.

Sometimes a poet will play with expectations of autobiography directly, as in Weldon Kees’s sonnet “For My Daughter,” whose first lines are “Looking into my daughter’s eyes I read / Beneath the innocence of morning flesh” and whose shocking last lines are “These speculations sour in the sun. / I have no daughter. I desire none.” Usually, though, poets don’t tell us how to read their poems.

Part of what is exciting about The Year of What Now is that it affords us a chance to question the widespread default of taking poetry as nonfiction.

In fairness, this default comes from somewhere—from the Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for instance, who used real-life anecdotes to enhance their poems’ “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” (It’s hard not to hear sardonic echoes of Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”—“My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart / With tender gladness, thus to look at thee”—in Kees’s sonnet.)

So too has our assumption of poetic autobiography been bolstered by the confessional poets. Anne Sexton’s poem, “The Truth the Dead Know,” for example, opens with a note stating that both her parents have died within months of each other: “For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959 / and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959.” It’s a beautiful poem, rhymed and full of haunting and haunted images. But would it lose its pathos—its relatability—if we were not informed that its emotional content arises from real events?

W.H. Auden apocryphally left one of Sexton’s readings complaining, “Who the hell cares about Anne Sexton’s grandmother?” Whether or not he ever said this, his question serves as a reminder that true confession has not always been the automatic mode of poetry; yet the rise of this mode has been so meteoric and far-reaching that it’s become hard for many readers to consider that a poem with a first-person speaker might not be autobiographical. If anything, it’s almost easier to picture a contemporary reader getting upset if it turned out that Sexton’s material about her family were not true.

Fans and critics of Sylvia Plath, too, have fixated for years on trying to sort out how much of her work is autobiographical, and also on how much the quality of the work depends on its relationship to “reality.” Robert Penn Warren said of Ariel that “it scarcely seems a book at all, rather a keen, cold gust of reality as though somebody had knocked out a window pane on a brilliant night.” Similarly, Peter Davison said of the book: “No artifice alone could have conjured up such effects.”

Criticism in this vein suggests that the fact that Plath’s work transformed reality into poetry is what makes the poems good. But imagination can also be a form of transformation, and artifice, too, can be a kind of magic. Even if we’ve never suffered the horror described in a horrifying poem, surely we can imagine that horror as the reader. Surely we can be shown that horror by a writer who is also imagining.

Decades after Plath and Sexton’s deaths, plenty of critics still valorize “reality.” Take, for example, Sharon Olds’s latest book, Stag’s Leap—an exploration of the author’s recent divorce—which won both the Pulitzer and TS Eliot prizes. Carol Ann Duffy, chair of the final judging panel for the latter, writes, “I always say that poetry is the music of being human, and in this book she is really singing. Her journey from grief to healing is so beautifully executed.” The beautiful execution obviously counts for a lot, but one wonders whether Stag’s Leap would be less of a prize winner if the journey had not taken place anywhere except Olds’s imagination. The citation from the Pulitzer committee calls it “a book of unflinching poems […] that examine love, sorrow and the limits of self-knowledge.”

Such words as “unflinching” raise questions about the balance that we, as readers, should be maintaining between having feelings about the poet in relation to having the feelings involved in the poem. Is being moved by a fabrication any less valuable than being moved by a candid confession? Should we praise or pity a poet for surviving a brutal experience, or should we praise the poem for moving us to feel praiseful or pitiful? If these things should even be separated, whose job is it to separate them, poet or reader?

None of this is to say that Olds’s work—or the work of any such skillful and gifted memoirist—is not brave and worthy. It’s just to say that such means are not the only way toward bravery and worthiness.

As Russell told me over email: “I’ve never understood why fiction writers are given all this leeway that poets are not. I think there are two problems going on. One—to begin with the expectation that poems are tiny little true stories (even if that’s what the precedent has become) is a false premise. You’re faulting the apple for not being an orange. Two—to attempt to make quality-based judgments on pieces of writing on the sole basis of ‘true’ vs. ‘invented’ is completely irrelevant. A true story can be incredibly powerful, but it’s not inherently so. And I don’t know that I would even agree that a true story has a higher ceiling for being ‘good’ than an invented story. Imagine how bankrupt literature would be if we were forced to write only what ‘really happened.’ Are we disappointed that Nabokov wasn’t a pedophile? If poetry is going to willfully limit itself to the true story then poetry is its own worst enemy.”

When Robert Lowell’s landmark book of confessional poetry, Life Studies, came out in 1959, the Kenyon Review declared—correctly—that these poems “have made a conquest: what they have won is a major expansion of the territory of poetry.”

Similarly—though headed in the opposite direction—Sleigh argues in his introduction that The Year of What Now “seems to me to represent a way forward for other young poets in its wide engagement with the world.”

To use a spatial metaphor, in an autobiographical poem, the poet is inviting the reader into her house: “This is my private house, and I will let you in, but it’s still my house.” In a book such as Russell’s, the poet is inviting the reader into a shared imaginative space: “This is a space which belongs completely to neither of us.” And this latter invitation yields a critically different kind of engagement. A confessional poet is primarily asking the reader to witness, whereas a poet such as Russell—whose work employs fiction—is primarily asking the reader to imagine. These poems do not merely encourage readers to watch and be amazed by his and his wife’s suffering, but rather encourage us to think much more broadly about how terrifying love is. 

Originally Published: November 12, 2013

COMMENTS (13)

On November 13, 2013 at 11:02am Alison Swan wrote:
Very enjoyable read, thanks. I was right there with you until you wrote
that confessional poets ask readers to witness rather than imagine.
Impossible! Every poem asks a reader to imagine; in true, first-person
poems the invitation is to imagine oneself into a world created with
the reader by the poem--and that's also true of fictional poems. I'd
also like to suggest that there are many varieties of nonfiction, first-
person poems. Some for example, have more in common with natural
history essays than confessional poems. I've never particularly liked
the term "confessional," anyway. It strikes me as too determined. . .
Thanks again for this excellent tour of some different ways of thinking
about that interesting question: what is the relationship between
poetry and fiction?

On November 13, 2013 at 10:10pm Heather wrote:
I appreciate the thought put into this piece. It definitely is strange how
(many) people are able to ready a 1st person story or novel and don't
have any trouble with the idea that it didn't really happen, at least not in
the way the work portrays it, but can't do the same with the speaker of a
poem.

On November 14, 2013 at 11:48pm Tim Barrus wrote:
It unequivocally does not matter. The stupid arguments that it matters
are patently absurd. Whose side are you going to pick to be on: the
academic side with their Master Degree Fiddledeedee Writer's Workshops
or the magical realists who live forever. Is mortality real. Is my writing
this real. No, it's SURreal. Everything I have ever written has been poetry.
That people thought otherwise is a sentiment they cling to. That, again,
doesn't matter. And frankly, my dear, I don't give a flying fuck what you
believe or do not believe. Reality and unreality are all the same to me.
Are we real. Probably not. But are there other universes. Probably. The
other side will argue that it matters because they matter, their values
matter, and the Prim School Rules and Garden Club Reading Group
matter, and the definitions we agree upon matter. But what if I don't
agree. I will never agree. The literary WORLD does not MATTER. Identity
and poetry are connected because I say they are. I CREATE my identity,
and WHY it matters to YOU, does not mean I am compelled to lose one
night's sleep over what you think MATTERS. That the world you live in
doesn't matter implies that YOU -- the you of you -- do not matter.
Butcha don't, Blanch. Ya don't. And for my next act I am writing a
screenplay that is poetry for a film already made (the trailer turned into
the film but does it MATTER, no) and isn't it supposed to be the other
way around. Miss Prim says: it's all so topsy turvy. Miss Prim needs a few
days in the desert with a big bag of peyote. It might change her entire
point of view. Does it matter if it was really a cactus but Prim saw a
Mexican Wolf that talked. I don't care where she got it, but it would
make a great story, and a simply fabulous poem.

On November 15, 2013 at 10:06am Lissa wrote:
An epigraph for one of my poems sums up my general philosophy ". . .a modicum of fact is here entangled with an abnormal amount of speculation." ~ Modern Inorganic Chemistry

On November 15, 2013 at 11:05am Susan (Susan L. Chast) wrote:
This essay brings up many thoughts. Here's one. It is
possible that all poems are true in an Aristotelian sense.
All the character and action are at least possible and
quite often real but not the poet's. Mine may have
conglomerate character/action from news and events OR may
personalize something that happened to someone I know.
The glue--the idea of it--always exposes the poet, though.

On November 15, 2013 at 1:43pm Steven Withrow wrote:
A great take on a very old argument. Often but not always, the first act of a reader of any piece of writing is to imagine that there is an author behind the speaker or the words. And no matter what we learn from secondary sources about the actual writer (if the piece is not anonymous) it is still an act of imagination to give flesh and depth to what is really only a concept. Even when we know the writer, are married to the writer, even then we imagine the circumstances of composition, the drives, the intentions, the struggles, the emotions. The intentional fallacy comes into play here, but it's interesting to me how much we must invent as the other partner in a literary communication.

On November 16, 2013 at 10:33am James wrote:
Ms. Rooney,

I always appreciate your well-written and thought-provoking pieces,
but in this essay, I feel you straining hard (and failing, in my opinion) to
justify the moves in Mr. Russell's THE YEAR OF WHAT NOW. Of course,
every reader approaches a poem with her or his own biases, but it
seems unfair to place all the responsibility on that reader for assuming
an entire book of poetry written about a husband dealing with his wife's
illness is, in fact, the truth. The example you shared about your
students' autobiographical reading of Rilke's "Song of the Little Cripple
at a Street Corner," unfortunately, does little to bolster your point--
Rilke did not write a WHOLE book about the "little cripple"--but it does
reveal the reality of mainstream readers' assumptions: you can pretty
much count on the fact that most non-academic, non-practicing poets
are going to assume some version of autobiographical truth when they
encounter a poem.

Would I be disappointed and pissed off if I found out Matt Rasmussen
was an only child and never had a brother who committed suicide? You
bet. BLACK APERTURE was one of my favorite books of the year and a
triumph of elegy. Would I be angry if Sharon Olds' father never died, or
if she never divorced? Of course! Perhaps it's too much to ask
nowadays, but I expect sincerity from the poets I read and an awareness
of how their audience might potentially react to their work. (Simply an
awareness of audience beyond the circle of one's friends or one's
academic milieu would be awfully welcome). As a poet myself, I'm a very
forgiving reader of poetry, but I don't want to be blamed if I don't get it,
or if I feel tricked. I don't think that's a failure of imagination or
empathy, and this is where we disagree: I believe that to be the failure
of the writer. And I have failed in this way many times myself. It is up to
the poet to imagine and then empathize with an ideal reader, though
perhaps your and Mr. Russell's ideal reader does not assume that a
poem will impart truth. So it goes.

The truth, though, is that there's an easy fix here. If you want to write a
book of poetry about a series of made-up events that will likely sound
autobiographical to your reader, why not call it "a novel in verse"? Why
not include a note at the beginning of the book and simply accept that
you will have to own up to the truth of your project at readings by
offering a disclaimer. I can always make a leap of imagination and
empathy (and then will not feel duped) if a poet has given me all the
information I need upfront. But so often these days, poets seem
disdainful of offering such helpful supporting information maybe
because they want to have it both way, to remain mysterious in their
intentions.

For all this discussion, however, what I really think is at issue in Mr.
Russell's work is not so much the fictionalizing, but the lack of
"authenticating details." I read through Mr. Russell's poems, and
whether this happened to him or not, it does not seem as though he's
imagined deeply enough the scenes he describes. And I think this is
partly because those supporting details often arise only if one has
experienced some version of what she or he is describing. "You had to
be there," as we say, and Mr. Russell, to my mind, clearly was not.

On November 17, 2013 at 11:27am Cheryl Clark wrote:
I tend to presume all poetry as fiction; and all writing as partly fiction.
If the words prompt further investigation toward reality, so be it. The
basis for all writing is self-expression--to explore and record feelings,
ideas, beliefs, goals. Even non-fiction, including biography, written on
an author's curiosity toward the Subject, can lead to information
shared or retained as they see fit, or lacking details they could not
substantiate. Every 'Tweet' is part fiction, as one is not there to
observe the moment. There are as many sides to a story as the pairs
of eyes who witnessed, and the ears that heard the accountings.
That said, I encourage investigation, by all means! "Face value" is not
what it used to be.

On November 19, 2013 at 1:22pm Colleen Kane Gielskie wrote:
Donald Hall talked about this in an interview with the Paris Review back
in January: "Of course my poems use things that have happened to me,
but they go beyond the facts. Even when I write about my grandfather, I
lie. I don’t believe poets when they say I, and I wish people wouldn’t
believe me. Poetic material starts by being personal but the deeper we
go inside the more we become everybody.”

I agree very much. I think the perception that all poetry must be
autobiographical and factually true for it to be good, for it to be saying
anything, is one of the greatest enemies of the art. Why is it we trust
that a songwriter doesn’t mean “I" when they, for example, say they
shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but hold poets to a different
standard, to insist they must be speaking only of themselves?

On November 22, 2013 at 12:17pm Bruce David Peck wrote:
This is a fascinating discussion on a fascinating article.Initally when I started writing poetry I labored under the ignorance of believing that everything was autobiographical, or confessional. As I started to realize that even when I was writing things I considered as autobiographical,because they arose from my own life, I realized that they would frequently collapse aspects of different experiences together. Since only I could know the difference, I thought, it really doesn't matter.
Then I was exposed to reality - Sylvia Plath's poems were NOT autobiographical, and the anger I felt at her wilfull betrayal of her father felt justified.
Then.somewhere,I read the idea that ALL poetry is confessional, because it al arises out of our rich mixture of experience.
So I can understand the emotions expressed in some of the comments that it is a fraud upon the reader, and that there is something missing in Russell's THe Year of What Now, I understand the feeling. BUt I do not neccessarily agree with the conclusion that if you did not experience what you are writing about you are unable to do justice to it, because you lack the bona fides. Some people experience incredibly unique events, yet may not be able to capture the 'essence' for the reader.
Yet there remains an underlying reality that, for some folk, if they learn the events depicted did not really happen they will feel betrayed. Every writer needs to resolve this issue in their own chosen way. Every reader needs to resolve this issue in their own chosen way.

On November 29, 2013 at 4:18pm Scott Bailey wrote:
This article is awesome, and I am very pleased of its content. After
reading at the Tallahassee Pride Festival, I was approached by many
who actually thought that I was a hustler due to my dramatic
monologue "Gigolo," a poem based upon my observance of men
hustling in gays bars in New Orleans.

Honestly, I was flattered! Why, clearly I captured the persona (with my
intermittent true-experiences throughout) thus making the voice and
experience believable.

Now, my collection of poems "Thus Spake Gigolo" is forthcoming next
year, published by NYQ Books.

Regarding such, should I clarify that my poems are dramatic
monologues, or should I allow the mystery to remain?

Scott Bailey
www.cscottbailey.com

On December 5, 2013 at 2:06am Joshua A. TRILIEGI wrote:
Dear Readers and Writers at The Poetry Foundation Site,
I appreciated reading THE COMMENTS here as much as The Article.
My name is Joshua Triliegi. I Publish an Arts and Culture Magazine.

As a younger man, I wrote and read much Poetry. Preferring the
free form aspect of it, the anything goes. I loved the freedom and
never thought twice about fact or fiction. The imagination of it all,
that is the attraction, depending on the author. Usually, there is
an unspoken code in the Literary World : If It's Charles BUKOWSKI,
most of it did happen, to a certain extent. If its Kerouac, Ginsberg
or Burroughs, same thing goes, same rules apply.

But much of poetry and fiction for that matter, depends highly on
the inner workings of the mind, imagination and the like. In fact,
many times, Poetry and Fiction are the exact opposite of what has
happened in a writers life. The Poem, The Novel, The Short Story
is a reprieve from some negative events.

I had shunned fiction for decades. Then suddenly drank it down
like water in the desert. Joyce Carol Oates, Oscar Hijuelos, Richard
Russo : fiction is a justified way of dealing with events in life. Taking
a memoir and combining characters, twisting events to create a One
- Two - Three Act structure of some sort is part of the game, part of
the magic, it is part of the ART.

Life itself is messy. Poetry and Fiction, Lyrics and Playwriting takes
that mess and makes it a digestible meal. Otherwise its flour, salt,
etc ... Wether it happened exactly so, is maybe not the most
important aspect of a written work of art. Does the writer take us
somewhere ? Is is exciting, startling, passionate, dangerous, beautiful,
triumphant, depressing ? If the answer is yes, than the writer has
done their job and is ready to go home for a good day behind the
pen.

Recently I started a FICTIONAL - EXPERIMENTAL - Project. I was
to write a chapter a day for three weeks without taking any notes
whatsoever. No notes. I had decided to build it as the days passed.
We publish what I wrote on blogs in New York, San francisco,
Los Angeles on a daily basis. One Chapter a day, the pressure
mounted as I led up to the project, I really had no idea what
would happen. People were going to read it daily as it was.
I took the John Updike edict, "Three pages a day before lunch."
and added a little super drive to it. Like lifting weights in public.

On the first day of the project, while riding to work on the public
transportation, I was hassled by a man who had been recently
released from prison. By the time I got to my office, ninety minutes
later, I had already imagined an entire life for the man and spent
the next three weeks ' imagining ' what life was like for him and his
family. The altercation occurred, everything else was the magic.
Or so I am told. Yes, we steal from our lives, our friends lives, things
we know to be real. but does it matter really ?

I am directing a Documentary about my grandfather's exploits,
it is a full on ' this stuff happened documentary '. But, I also have
a series of poems, essays and a Novel that is very much a Fictionalized
version. Stephen crane wrote about the Civil War and people loved it.
He was born long after it had ended. Imagining the stories we are told
and adding history, details, research, is half of the fun, at least for me.

Dredging through periodicals, thrift shops, costume and period
clothing shops, museums, music, all feed what we do as artists.
" The Girl with The Pearl Earring ', is a perfect example. Painting
inspires story about subject and artist. We are entertained, enthralled,
educated and Tracy Chevalier has done her job. On to the next one.

When we read the late Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer prize winning Novel,
" Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love ", we figure out pretty quickly that
this is a ' version ' of his life, his family. But clearly, he has made it
into something. That is the beauty of LITERATURE: otherwise, it would
be JOURNALISM. Like a painter, we see the light hitting an object a
certain way, but by the time we mix the oils, grab the brush and apply
it to the canvas, already the light has shifted, so we remember, and in
the memory, the mind begins to create, and in the creation thereof is
that indescribable stuff that happens when your characters begin to
walk and talk all with a life of their own, its beautiful.

By the time I was into week three of the Experimental Novel project:
" They Call it the City of Angels " Part One, I would show up at the
office and there they all were,my characters, just waiting for me to
write down what they were doing. I found it to be a pleasant reprieve
from the journalism that I do for the magazine: reviewing
Art, Theater, Films, music, etc ...

As a writer of poetry and fiction and journalism, the distinction is
there, but when I read the works of my contemporaries, teachers and
historical forefathers, I simply want them to take me there. Wether or
not it happened that way is hardly the point. If it is Poetry, I especially
want the freedom to flow with it rather than wonder about its
exactitude in any manner.

With works like, " The Portrait of Dorian Gray" and the genres of works
that followed, fact or fiction has no place whatsoever, just the act of
magic is all that is needed. Does Houdini really escape ? Did it really
happen as such ? Those of us who study these things realize quickly
that Houdini was a master locksmith who spent most of his time
learning the mechanics of it all. most of the great writers we know &
love, and many that we have yet to discover, are doing just that.

Thank you for your time. Feel free to visit The Site and hear AUDIO
and or read the first 22 Chapters of "They Call It The City of Angels".

Yes, there will be a Part Two. The characters are just waiting for me.
I can feel them calling sometimes, somewhere from deep inside the
imagination. Let us write, let us read, let us imagine and let us
wonder. Did it really happen ? Well, questions such as this have
inspired us all to have these thoughts, and so, if anything, that has
been a constructive way of getting us to communicate with one
another and that is what matters most. We are writers, we are readers,
we need each other and the world is a better place because of our
work. If anyone tells you any different, well, write them a letter.

Respectfully,

Joshua A. TRILIEGI

Editor & Publisher

BUREAU of ARTS and CULTURE Magazine

http://BUREAUofARTSandCULTURE.com

On February 4, 2014 at 6:00pm Terry Persun wrote:
Poetry is no different than fiction, in my view. Even if it is "based on a
true story" the words are chosen, the lines are broken with care, the
pacing is adjusted. If the poem was rewritten at all, it's not a life story.
Hell, even life stories change each time they are told. I'm a novelist and
poet, and if I only wrote the absolute truth, without editorializing,
without considering my words carefully, little of it would be worth
reading. Even confessional poetry is from a particular viewpoint.

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 Kathleen  Rooney

Biography

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press. She is the author of the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010) and the poetry collection, Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012). With Elisa Gabbert, she co-wrote That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008).

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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