Monday, May 3

"I" in Individualist Poetry

Posted by Shelly Holder

Most of the poems that I write are in some way individualist; meaning the focus is on a single individual's experience of a situation. However, despite the use of "I" and "me" in these works, and despite some auto-biographical elements, these poems do NOT necessarily represent me or my feelings.

I remember a particular conversation that I had with my freshman roommate about a year ago. I was sharing some poems that I was submitting, and she stunned me by asking if I was truly that depressed. Depressed? I echoed back. Depressed? Where did you get that from? (I was, at time, although not on top of the world, at least very very happy to be where I was) She replied, From your poems.

My work from that day and from now may reflect an emotion that I experienced, but the narratives are never so cut and dried to say "Oh, that stemmed from this in my/her life."

I do like to write in this manner of individualist poetry. Poetry and creative writing are so subjective that addressing yourself to anything other than the individual seems a waste of time. I actually wrote a poem on this very topic!

I know that I was influenced on the use of "I" in poetry by my favorite poet Wislawa Szymborska. She was the first to really open me up to the wonders of poetry, and even now that I have read and been exposed to so much more poetry since "The Discovery," she remains the most beloved and the most influential.

Czeslaw Milosz, another famous Polish poet and Szymborska's mentor at university wrote in an essay called "Our Common Heritage: On Wislawa Szymborska" that

Szymborska's "I" is an ascetic "I," cleansed not only of the desire to confess, but of any individuating features, and yet it is linked to the "I" of all others who share in the human condition...

To explain this all better, I'll simply leave you with an example of Szymborska's poetry.

Under a Certain Little Star 
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity. 
My apologies to necessity in case I'm mistaken. 
Don't be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own. 
May the dead forgive me that their memory's but a flicker. 
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second. 
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first. 
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home. 
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger. 
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss. 
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning. 
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes. 
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water. 
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage, 
staring, motionless, always at the same spot, 
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed. 
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs. 
My apologies to large questions for small answers. 
Truth, do not pay me too much attention. 
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me. 
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil. 
Soul, don't blame me that I've got you so seldom. 
My apologies to everything that I can't be everywhere. 
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman. 
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me, 
since I am my own obstacle. 
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words, 
and then labor to make them light.