MFA Thesis Diary #4: On Truth & Accuracy

accuracy |ˈakyərəsē|

noun ( pl. -cies)the quality or state of being correct or precise

truth |troōθ|noun ( pl. truths |troōðz; troōθs|)the quality or state of being true

I have to be honest with you. I have no problem lying in order to tell the truth. Does this make me a horrible person or just a poet? My manuscript draws – in large part – from my own experiences growing up in Memphis, TN & North Texas. The narratives in many of the poems come from my personal memories & yearnings. So, here’s the thing. When I sit down to work on this manuscript, I’m concerned with getting to the truth or, as I call it, the heart of the matter. I don’t care about how things actually happened so much as what they meant. This is a choice I’ve made as a writer. If I were writing a memoir, things might be different, then again – they might not.

Of course, none of this is revelatory. I’m bringing it up because the more I write about the “boy” I was, the less he begins to resemble me. The boy in these poems was born in my mind & memory, yet he’s much more thoughtful & sensitive than I was. When he looks at a sudden downpour, it means something to him.  When he steps on a twig, he hears it. I seriously doubt that at the age of ten I was that aware of my surroundings. I’ve put my current self into this boy’s head. This is necessary in order for the poems to happen. All of this is to say: I’m coming to terms (or perhaps I’m fine) with throwing the burden of accuracy out the window. Some of the poems are willfully inaccurate. Some of them are absolutely false, and yet – I write each of them with a very specific truth in mind.

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5 responses to “MFA Thesis Diary #4: On Truth & Accuracy

  1. I think that it’s difficult to believe that there’s anyone who doesn’t do this on some level. A poet sometimes writes about events that other people experienced simultaneously. But those people may not recognize what the poem recognizes, and what is there in some level, but was obviously not so abundantly obvious that every other person in attendance saw those details. As a matter of fact, the writer didn’t even see those details, maybe.

    I think more often than not, as a poet, you are recreating that experience or feeling out of what are inarguably unclear memories.

    It sounds as if you’ve just embraced a particular level of verifiable ‘truth,’ and I, at least, am fine with that.

  2. I totally get where you’re coming from. My pieces sometimes read like I had one long horrible day when really I threw together things that happened over the course of some years. Poets tell the lies that tell the truth. I heard Claudia Emerson read once and she mentioned how she would tell her students, “I don’t care what really happened” when she was giving feedback because they were sometimes more concerned with the facts than they were with craft.

    I hate when my mother reads my stuff. I have to explain that i’ve writen a version of the truth lol

  3. Ha. I’m always explaining to my mama that the poem’s speaker is not always me.

  4. I do the same thing. Sometimes I do it deliberately, sometimes the sound of the words just leads me to deviate from what really happened. But I agree with you that “I don’t care about how things actually happened so much as what they meant.” There is a level of emotional, spiritual, universal truth that is not at all dependent upon an accurate retelling of events.

  5. Indeed, that’s the blessing of the genre. I remember the first poem I published that had an inkling of truth about family and then ran–my mother cried. But the poem itself didn’t want to reside in the true–it wanted to explode into something else, and that was right too.

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