Thursday 14 March 2024

It's personal

By default in poems, "I" is the poet. In a poetry book with several poems about "mother", it's tempting to assume they're all about the same person. These assumptions aren't always correct. At the very least, names might be changed to protect the innocent. Details might be adjusted to improve a poem - events might be conflated or exaggerated; surplus details and people might be edited out.

Policies vary. In "Material" by Ros Barber (Anvil, 2008) there's little to stop readers identifying the persona with the poet. The Acknowledgements page ends with "Finally, apologies are due to all those individuals who find themselves incorporated as 'material' when they would have chosen otherwise"

Robert Lowell used quotes from letters by (ex) wife Elizabeth Hardwick when writing "The Dolphin". He did so without permission. When he changed details for aesthetic reasons, it sometimes made Hardwick look worse than she was. The book won a Pulitzer.

Perhaps more writers should wear a tee-shirt like I got one Xmas. Don't worry - I don't write novels. Anyway, I'm careful when writing about people living or dead. More than once I've shown someone a poem/story, asking if I could publish it. And the "I" in my poems is often not me even when the details come from my life.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, over the last few years I've found myself writing poems in the voices of my wife, my daughter and even my granddaughter and, of course, when people read a poem beginning "My dad is…" they assume I'm talking about MY father which is further complucated by the few poems when I AM talking about him.