Who knows what the valid answer is. I’m here, so I might as well tell you mine based on experience.
Professor Hernandez from California State University Long Beach always mentioned in his workshops to “write poetry you wouldn’t want to show your parents.” Writing raw pieces is like exploring your subconscious and chucking away little pieces of secrets, taboos, and questionable thoughts you have. I want to emphasize that writing raw poetry does have some sort of connection to confessional poetry. What both have in common is honesty. Although, confessional poetry consists of dissecting yourself or your “voice” in a psychoanalytical lens. Rawness in poetry is simply writing with honesty. When a raw tone and a confessional attitude combine, the voice is vulnerable, personal, and realistic.
How the world communicates today is much more open and honest, so as raw poets, we have to cater to that standard by heightening the rawness. Why do I say that? Here is something I have mentioned on my social media page once after posting, what I consider, my first, true confessional poem:
“As a modern poet, I must enlighten my readers somehow. Womanhood and the rawness that comes with it. I find that people eat the truth up, and social media made the world want exposure, to feel some sort of belonging. That’s how communities work. By learning more taboos of the world through this platform, I am obligated to write my truth. Otherwise, how successful will I be by covering up the reality of it all?”
What does it mean to be raw?
It means using your vocabulary and finding words that express your tone by the tongue. Rawness usually points towards nasty, grotesque, sexual… a stripped-down language. It is looking at a scene, and instead of covering up the description with bubbly language, you describe it just how it is.
Here is an example:
A bench under a street lamp post at midnight, Chicago.
Optimistic language/standard stereotyped poem:
As I look at the street lamp post beam down,
the light makes the bench a central point, almost
angelic looking. This gray bench is stoic
and speaks within its silence.
The gravel, its disciples.
The lamp post, a virgil.
Who knew something so man-made could be biblical.
There’s nothing else.
Raw language/modern poem:
Feeble floor, or should I say
ground? Whoever painted this bench is
depressed. Schnapps piss
and “gray sky #00045 paint”.
It was on clearance,
I’m sure. The wood chips passed
away by the century. This bench
has lesions scabs
and pus, civic illness.
Okay, I wrote a raw poem. Is it poetic, though?
One big part of writing my poetry is realizing and recognizing that I have been dwelling on issues or challenges in my life before writing the poem. When I think about what is bothering me, I jot down rants. Those rants become lines and images. Most of the time, I write intuitively without knowing what the content is, until I’m finished writing the poem. Be conscious of your imagery, descriptions, and diction, as you write. As long as you’re making conscious poetic decisions, you should still be able to allow your mind to freely flow and intuitively write.
Then, the writing is recognized as spontaneous and fresh, per se. The thoughts are fresh and honest since the mind has not even acknowledged the stream of words coming together as one, for each line written down. Take into account that poetry doesn’t have to be filled with sophisticated language and fluffed up with Shakespearean lingo in order for it to be considered a good poem. The trick is being unpredictable and taking advantage of the language you know—modern, colloquial, second-learned language, etc. To utilize your unique, day-to-day dialogue while maintaining musicality, original imagery, and unpredictable line breaks can make an astounding poem.
I have learned to believe that poetry should protrude an epiphany, an intellectual opinion, or observation, but contemporary poetry is much more than that. It could be just describing a moment. This moment could have bolder meanings, but it does not strive for a lesson or force the reader to decipher a puzzle right away. It is just connecting with the reader, conveying intimacy. Using dialect that makes the reader feel more at home. I have not learned that it is okay to write casually and intimately in high school/university experience.
I wish professors/teachers would explicitly say this: readers need the poets to write with a distinctive voice, with an intimate tone (like a one-on-one conversation), and dabble with their registers of voices. I have been writing for a long time, but it is like I hardly knew what I was doing successfully because I did not know the universal, fundamental steps of writing a poem. This is especially true when trying to find my voice as a modern poet. My specialty is raw, confessional poetry.