One of the questions I get most often about my poetry is, "Did that really happen to you?"
Or, people make the assumption that everything is true and ask me a question related to the poem, like "How old were you when your mother died?"
Do I have to tell you how awkward it is when I have to say, "Actually, my mother is alive and well feeding horses in Florida."
See, here's the thing: writers use first person to draw the reader closer to the poem. We use fictional circumstances to convey our thoughts/feelings about an actual emotion. So for the aforementioned mother poem, the feeling of loss is real. The fictional death is just the vehicle. (Actually it was written after hearing someone else's story about their mother's death... and it put me in touch with my own grief issues.)
For me, the emotion is always real. Poetry demands it. Truly it is not the genre for faking anything. But the details? Come on, folks.
Here's what a Newbery winning poet/novelist/playwright has to say about it:
"It's fiction. Meaning autobiography seen through weird, wavy glasses."
-Paul Fleischman, BREAKOUT