This is an issue near and dear to me, like a deer I shot.
But I've never shot a deer.
And this is why you should never trust a poet, or rather, you should not believe a poem's content is coterminous with the poet's life experience.
I am not writing an autobiography in my poems.
If I could even decide what I was trying to do with/in a poem, I would be happy. I try not to think while I'm writing or afterward. Or at all, except maybe when revising.
More articulate poets--Lynn Melnick/Cate Marvin/Amy King--than I have discussed this. See here and here and here.
Some excerpts out of context, but piquing nonetheless:
After a poetry reading I gave a couple of months ago, a stranger came up to a male poet I read with and asked him how he landed upon his chosen form for the lyric, “I”-based poems in his book. The same stranger then turned to me and asked, ostensibly in earnest, if I was “okay now.” My poems had him “worried.” I will generously assume the worry was one of concern and not prurience. Apparently he mistook my poems as a cry for help rather than, say, you know, art.
To insist on imposing an author’s lived life onto his or her work is an act of anti-reading, a demonstrated refusal to authentically engage with the thing itself that’s been built out of language.
Furthermore, such an approach diminishes the intellectual pleasures that are so fully available to the perceptive reader. My advice: don’t try to find the author’s life in a piece; rather, look for your own.
Many bad readers are bad writers. They have yet to form a sense of what they need to provide to their own readers. In short, they are poor listeners. Incapable of understanding what it means to be an audience, they serve no audience.
FOR THE SAKE of contention, and because my "I" is garnering a reputation lately of refusal (I just made that up!), I want to come at this subject from the wrong end — the un-cool, un-PC end — of the stick. The division between the poem and the poet happens to be, for me, as real as the fourth wall. It doesn't exist, but we all agree to respect it for the most part, until somebody throws a rotten apple or answers the persona during her performance.
Likewise, I take dirty pleasure in knowing things about an author, whether a fiction writer or a poet, and sometimes I try to ferret out how those details might manifest or take hold in the author’s work. It's unfair to do, I know, but because I'm not terribly invested in my own history, I don't mind if others attempt the same connections with my own work, assuming they bother about my boring details at all. Fair is fair, and I'm no hypocrite.