Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I is a lie

In her comment on my review of Paul Henry’s The Brittle Sea, Sheenagh Pugh linked to her excellent interview with him.

One very interesting point was their discussion of many readers’ failure to recognize that “I is a lie”. In fact, Henry mentioned that he had left certain strong poems out of the book due to this pitfall.

My own use of personae leads me to similar problems. I write from the point of departure of my surroundings, but the whole creative point of a poem is the way it takes off into fiction through the voice(s) of its character(s). While working in a vacuum where I was distanced from readers and editors, I felt sure that people implicitly understood the concept as soon as they approached a poem. In fact, the publication of my pamphlet led to several reviews which assumed autobiography at every turn. I was amazed!

The mere fact that I write poetry rooted in the everyday doesn’t mean that it’s factual or experience-based. This separation of the author and personae was drummed into me in my schooldays, so I find it frustrating that such misinterpretation is still rife, especially in poems that are set in recognisable contexts, as if accessible verse were a confessional diary.

Writing in the first person is important to me as a means of creating intimacy with my character(s). It forms a key component in my exploration of identity and belonging. I realise that this approach runs risks, but I’m more determined than ever to develop its potential. A strong cast lends extra texture to a book, something I’ll be keeping in mind as I work towards my first full collection.

1 comment:

  1. There were some technical issues the other day that prevented Duncan MacLaurin from posting his comment on this piece,so here it is below:

    "I sympathise with your amazement that readers assume the narrative 'I' is synonymous with the poet. Equally amazing to me is that Paul Henry chose to leave out good poems because of this false assumption. Surely the best way to react to such misreading is to plod on regardless and hope that readers catch on later?

    I started a poetry blog two months ago, and I've also written something about the (non-)autobiographical "I": http://gists.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/remorse/

    All the best