It’s About Me? Or Is It?
In a recent New York Review of Books, I read an extended essay titled, “The Illusion of the First Person.” I was quite intrigued by the contents and saw that much of what the article contained applied to poetry. In fact, some of the types of essays can be compared to types of poetry.
For instance: structural essay is similar to a sonnet in that both present an argument or premise, then conclude or resolve. The formal/impersonal essay is meant to inform or persuade. This is similar to a lyric poem which also can be compared to a personal essay. In poetry, contrasting to the prose of the essay, the poet is using poetic forms to state the case, as it were.
There are just as many poems that have the plural form, “we” to present the personal essay. In this case the writer wants to pluralize as if there are many who feel the same way. For instance, the acclaimed poet, Nikki Giovanni, started her notable speech/ poem, “We are Virginia Tech” with the lines “we are sad today and we will be sad for quite a while…” Often the use of “we” can bring comforting inclusiveness.
The challenge for us poets in the use of First Person is to ensure our writing does not become petty or show a lack of poetic finesse. We don’t want to come across as preachy or sanctimonious; but we want our wordsmithing to capture attention and commitment from the reader. Consider your poetry as an offering of your “self.”
So the question is: Poetry in the First Person; It’s About Me? Or Is It?
We strive to be the best we can!
Until next time…
Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).