Friday, May 27, 2011

Reverting to the Personal Pronoun: engaging the ‘lyrical I’

By John; posted by Tracy

The reclaiming of ‘I’ isn’t a gain, but a willingness to be held accountable for the necessarily compromising effects and affect implicit in the deployment of words. The concentrations of poetry increase the impact of allusion as much as declaration, and the machinations to avoid locating culpability for the possibly deleterious effects of one's words should be held to account.

By removing the unified self in its overt guise from the picture, the poet seeks both to universalise the text and to comment on the false claims any individual has to a ‘right’ way of seeing, into any sort of unique knowledge. It’s a social ploy, and that’s useful, and it resists capitalist fetishisation of text as brand-named product, and questions the authority of any one individual.

But it’s a smokescreen because whether written individually or collaboratively or even instigated in some random way, the original impetus necessarily relies on at least the notion of personal subjectivity in terms of its reception. All readers and listeners listen and read differently — most of those who reject the ‘I’ would at least consider this likely. 

Tendentious, yes, but any claims of the best way to programme a poem are just that. And to my point: the ‘I’ is very rarely ‘honest’ anyway, and can only be a representation of the idea of self even with the most self-centred, world-seeing, self-defining authority of a poet. The I is the ultimate persona. 

However, I believe one can bolster the ‘I’ with a personal willingness to take responsibility and be held accountable for witness, observation, and the many slippages and ambiguities that make a poetic text. A super-ego I, that reflects on the conditions of not only its making, but its accountability.

This is achieved through mixing verifiable ‘fact’ with that which evades confirmation: the conversation between these qualities is at the crux of the poem, and in many ways the ‘I’ manages this conversation (its conflicts and agreements and neutralities) within the poem.

The accountable I is the mediator, not the judge of the poem. Its accountability is to do with the value of presence in the text, and in the environment observed and/or created by the text. Its position is one the reader/listener might scrutinise: its position in terms of how it conveys and manages the presentation of poetic ideas and poetic language.

What’s more, it’s not (necessarily or necessarily desirably) the job of this ‘I’ to ‘confess’ anything. To hold one’s hand up and be responsible for one's own actions is not to have to lay one’s private history on the table. But it is an offering of a form of ‘privacy’: the accepting that even in its most private moments of creation the writing of a poem for publication is an act of declaration, a surrendering of varying degrees of privacy.

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