I write largely from a first person perspective. My take on poetry is that if I bore deep enough into me I break through to the oneness of everyone else. This developed as the way I write over years of sharing my work. The stuff that people tended to like the most was always the hardest to share. It was the poems that came from places so deep that I didn’t always know where they came from, I just knew that it was the most personal work. At first these poems felt so personal I was hesitant to share them at all, because what was someone else to gain from something that stank so much of me.
Other than some of my spoken word inspired pieces, these were always the most requested poems. Without consulting my agent, or creative writing professor I simply decided that I had stumbled onto something. That there was nothing wrong with sharing the writing that helped me out the most, as so often it helped others out as well. Another thing I believe in very strongly is impact, and the deepest impact in first person work means the most personal.
However, many agents, professors, and magazine editors disagree with me. Poetry tends to be graded on it’s universality, and absence of self. Focus on the falling leaf, instead of how the leaf made me fall. My brand of poetry tended to be viewed just as the writer’s own therapy.
What poem isn’t the writer’s therapy? Spraying on some perfume, and sticking it in heels does nothing other than disguise it. We are all the polar opposite of selfless, everything we do for us individually. Those who we label as selfless, are not selfless at all, they just gain for the self through giving. A poem that is just about a leaf, is still the poet trying to work out their thoughts on the leaf.
That being said there are plenty of bad first person poems. Though there are also plenty of bad poems in every other variety imaginable. Yet, my brand gets discriminated against. I have seen more than one critique forum where “therapy poems” are not allowed, only REAL poetry. So bad I-less poem, after bad I-less poem gets posted. My not my best work, but not my worst poems stay in the queue.
The middle realm of writing tends to be geared more toward aesthetics than impact. Pretty lines that linger maybe for a moment, get more praise than ugly ones that strike you in the heart.
I have faith in my experience with this, as I have seen it happen to other writers. I see the kid who writes about the view outside her window, get more praise than the kid who wrote about her depression. Yet, the fumbling and awkward I driven stanzas are the ones I think about later. If the vulnerability they discuss is not yet beautiful, it is at least memorable. Yet these are the writers who get trashed. Even though there is a talent in being willfully vulnerable, and there is learnable skill in aesthetics.
To me that is what a poem should be, it should leave an afterimage in the mind of the reader. It should make them feel less alone, and when appropriate provide new understanding. It shouldn’t be consumable beauty which we enjoy in our mouths for a minute, and shit out hours later. Good poems linger. In quiet moments I still hear Dickinson’s fly, and can feel Plath’s horse running. Likely at least one of those two poems is known to most who read this. Time will tell who of today we remember tomorrow.