5 Confessional Poets to Read for National Poetry Month

For poets everywhere, April is something of a holy month. Since 1996, National Poetry Month (NaPoMo) has brought "schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets" together to celebrate poetry and its importance to our culture. There’s no shortage of ways you can celebrate poetry in April: some people keep a poem in their pocket that they share with others as they go about their days. Others set personal goals, striving to write a poem each week—or even each day. Whether you practice the craft or simply appreciate the poetry of others, NaPoMo is a great time to dive a little deeper. 

There’s beauty in the vulnerability of the perfect poem. Whether it’s a humorous poem, a poem of victory, the linguistic painting of a people in despair or something more along the lines of love’s triumph over death, we’re drawn to poetry because it, like music, strums the strings of our souls. It resonates. The most salient poems are always the ones that feel a little bit like coming home for the first time in years. Even the most chilling poem has an element of honesty and humanity we can empathize with. 

In the spirit of NaPoMo (and in admiration of the honesty of great poets), today I’d like to introduce you to five women whose work truly laid the foundation of confessional poetry as we know it. In each of their poems, you’ll notice a raw first-person approach—as though these women have laid themselves bare for the world to see. 

1. Elizabeth Bishop

“. . . I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster . . .”

Excerpt from “One Art”

2. Sharon Olds

“. . . and the wonder to me is that it did not disgust me,
that glass of phlegm that stood there all day and
filled slowly with the compound globes and I’d
empty it and it would fill again and
shimmer there on the table until the
room seemed to turn around it
in an orderly way, a model of the solar system
turning around the gold sun . . .”

Excerpt from “The Glass”

3. Sylvia Plath

“. . . These are my hands  
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman. . .”

Excerpt from “Lady Lazarus”

4. Adrienne Rich

“. . .
I have been standing all my life in the  
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most  
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15  
years to travel through me . . .”

Excerpt from “Planetarium”

5. Anne Sexton

“. . . Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave . . .”

Excerpt from “The Truth the Dead Know”