The Post-Confessional Poet

Rochelle Hurt


She’s at it again—stripping me down, taking

slate to my kitchen knives, punching out windows

in my childhood home—all means, no end.


Tonight, She’s brought with her a boy—I know

the one. Only wanted a bit of fun. In the basement,

She’s given him all my clothes, and they tremble


in his hands while I stand naked on the page.

I know I’ll never get them back, not inside

this perpetual present tense, this fence

around the dogs of adolescence—how they beg


to be let go. Does the tragedy even matter? Better

if I am a metaphor, maybe: some kids trapped

in a burning apartment, while the Poet is a fireman


rescuing tiny flames instead. How tenderly

She cradles each one through the doorway, her little

raisons d'être. Anything to save the Poem, She says.

second draft // The Poet


The poet is at it again—punching out windows

in all your childhood homes, tossing lit matches

onto dry roofs, taking slate to kitchen knives.


How carefully she lines the nighttime sidewalks

of your memory with lawn chair gossips, ghostly

in the glare of those lurid emergency lights. All means,


no end. In this one, you are the kids locked inside

the burning apartment, and she is a fireman busily rescuing

flames instead. How tenderly she cradles each one

through the doorway, her little raisons d'être. Anything

to save the poem, she says. Does it matter what the tragedy is?


Tonight, she’s brought with her a boy—you know the one.

Only wanted a bit of fun. She’s given him your clothes,

and they tremble in his hands while you stand naked

on the page. You’ll never get them back—not in this

perpetual present tense, this fence around the dogs

of adolescence. Let them go, you beg.

first draft // [untitled]


I’m tired of this trauma-raking.

Tell the window to break itself tonight.

Tell the kitchen knife I’ve had a long day.

I can’t chase the police cars into place.


Tell the boy down the street

I’ll act scared tomorrow.

For now, my clothes in his hands

will tremble for me.


Go upstairs and tell your arm

it will just have to grip itself

and bear down on that little blade

because I’m too tired to do it.


Somebody tell all those kids

caught inside the burning house

that tonight it’s the flames

who will be rescued. The firemen

will cradle them tenderly

through the doorway instead. 


Rochelle's Commentary

For me, the revision process is often a matter of building up, rather than whittling down. I usually begin with a single phrase or metaphor and then let the rhetoric, rhythm, or imagery carry me through the first draft. Often, this first draft is spare and disjointed, but by the time I reach the end of it, I have a much clearer idea of where the poem should go. After that, I can move forward by adding necessary material and shaping the form. Of course, many of the details I add to intermediary drafts are subsequently removed, but my final drafts are usually both larger and tidier than my initial drafts. In this poem, I began with an image of the window breaking itself and let that be my guide, but I didn’t understand what the image meant to me until I got through a couple of quick drafts. Then I realized that I actually wanted to address the issue of distance and autobiography in poetry. I’d been writing a lot of poems that transformed personal memories into new scenes and voices, so I was feeling a bit anxious and guilty about manipulating the truth in poems—especially poems that dealt with traumatic or taboo subjects. (Some people tend to assume these kinds of poems are entirely autobiographical, but in a post-Confessional context, that’s not always the case.) There is an odd dissonance and self-doubling that occurs in this process. So by the time I started working on final drafts of the poem, I understood that in order to do this I needed to more fully establish a first-person speaker whom I could separate from “the Poet” who makes things happen on the page. 

Rochelle Hurt is the author of a novel in poems, The Rusted City (White Pine, 2014). Her work appears in Best New Poets 2013, Crab Orchard Review, Mid-American Review, The Southeast Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. She is a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati.