People often assume that poems are autobiographical and to the extent the poet has read or heard about an event or experience, thought about an issue, or experienced an event herself, that is true.
At the same time, it seems to me that poetry has to go beyond therapy, beyond confession and revelation, to something more universal, common to us all. After all, aren’t we all far more alike than we are different?
When a poem uses unique, personal detail, the poem comes alive, and can be so vivid and powerful that it stands for the whole. In this way, the poem may resonate with the reader in some way, cause him to think not only of the biography or psyche of the poet, but of himself.
Have you fallen in love, been hurt? Have you dealt with an aging parent, lost a loved one? Have you made a mistake and repeated it, made a mistake and learned from it, had a profound experience that has changed you? Have you watched a rabbit, a bull, a human being die? Have you traveled far or, like Emily, remained at home? Have you struggled with depression like Jane Kenyon? Have you ever asked yourself why you are here and what happens when you die?
Poetry matters - because it seeks to get to what matters. Oh, some may write in a way to demonstrate the existential, the nihilistic. Some may be content with being clever, obfuscating meaning, or deliberately making no sense at all. But I for one believe that, if this life I am living now is the only one I’ll ever have, it is made infinitely richer by the search for meaning below and at the heart of things. It is at that level that the best poems unearth and unfold.