Jeremy Mifsud on Unmasking Truth in Poetry

Today our Featured Artist Jeremy Mifsud shares his thoughts with a guest post on writing real people into poetry, and the impact in can have both on us and those who are intimate parts of our lives.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Real Life People in Poems

Poetry is an intimate art through which we creatively channel our emotions. When I started writing, I was extremely self-conscious of the fact that my family and friends could read the poems I publish. In fear of hurting others, I masked identities in the ambiguous — most of the ‘she’ in my poems are
referencing my mother. Strategically, it was useful to ensure a security; I could lie and say, “Oh, this is about someone else, don’t worry,” but it was counterproductive to my poetry.

I gave up on that (to some extent). There is always an allure to a general pronoun such as ‘you’. A poem about an ex will remain a poem about an ex, no matter which ex it refers to. It’s a tightrope we must walk on carefully; people that know us personally will know who we are talking about, but that’s part of the deal. I own my emotions, whether they are love, anger, hurt, joy, or whatever. What I do with them should be my own choice.

By being more specific, I am giving up the option to lie or mask reality. A lover who smells like honeycomb knows the poem is about him. But I am not encouraging artists to ruin their personal relationships for the sake of their craft. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am quite upfront and honest. If there’s something bothering me, you can be sure that I will come to you & express it to you, so if you read about it in a poem, you should already be aware of my feelings.

There’s also the added element of metaphors and exaggerating emotions to make a poem stronger, and so, people in my life need to accept that what I write may not be 100% accurate or word-by-word. At times, a lover is a hybrid of two or more, or whose actions remind me of others I’ve been with. As a poet, I need the liberty to tether them into a single figure without any of them being insulted.

As for the outcome, I cannot say that my mother has never been upset/heartbroken over reading a poem (which I did not intend for her to see) — I had to cleanse myself from the hurt of things I can’t say to her face. Other than that, most of my lovers have been artists who understand both the concept of art and how my insecure mind works. I’ve been lucky that they are not only understanding, but also supportive in my publishing of poems, even in those where they’re not put in the best of lights.