|The poetic "I": reimagining the self in poetry|
Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a number of looks at the use of “I” in poetry. First, we looked at the “I” as the self in poetry. Last week, we looked at the “I” as other, or the use of “I” as a persona in poetry.
This week, we are shifting to a new sphere of the “I” in poetry: the reimagined self.
the re-“I”-magined self
When I say “reimagining” yourself, what do you picture? Personally, when I first hear the words “reimagined self” I picture a me that’s about 50 pounds lighter and $50 million richer! But when I talk about reimagining the self in poetry, what I’m really talking about is viewing ourselves through a different lens. In a lot of ways a persona in poems and reimagining the self in poems are very similar: they both engage new characterizations of a self. The difference is that in a persona poem the “I” is a character, and not necessarily our true self. In a reimagined self poem, the experiences are still, at heart, our own, because the I is still, essentially, true to who we really are. A persona is a movie; a reimagined self is a metaphor.
You might think of the difference between a persona and a reimagined self as the difference between fiction and creative nonfiction. A persona might be a lie, while a reimagined self might be a “slanted truth.” But personally, I like to take the reimagined self a little further. I don’t want to just reimagine myself as a thinner person or a richer person or even necessarily a person at all. Instead, I like to think of it as a chance for me to experience the world from a whole new perspective. Perhaps I am a pen, or an oak tree. I might be a gust of wind or a grain of salt.
The experiment of a reimagined-self poem is to look at yourself with a completely new pair of eyes. I find the best way to do this is to step outside of any “gaze” that might be the most familiar to our experiences as people: no people, no animals. Inanimate objects are the most fun. Because just like with a persona poem, in which you switch off your own voice to turn on a voice you’ve created, now we’re entering a place where we can shut off not just our voices, but our whole realm of existence, and step into a new sphere, a new way of being, of breathing, of seeing the world.
“image, thou art loosed” prompt
To step into the land of the reimagined-self, think of an inanimate object: a fan, or a dresser, or a blanket. For me, the objects often come from the bedroom, because that’s the place where I often feel the most liberated. Think of what it would be like to actually be that object. If you were a picture frame, how would you see? How would you get around? How would you breathe? Or, would you breathe? Are you just holding your breath until your owner looks at you with longing, so you can breathe an air of memory over him once more? Maybe that’s just me. But the key is to write this new experiences, these new senses, this new way of being, into reality for yourself.
Here’s my attempt:
“They unfolded your lives one by one …”
~Sweet Honey in the Rock
I am a great momma quilt
spread over your bones
tucking you deep
into square pockets and threads—
you can barely breathe beneath me,
but I have breath enough for two.
For millions. The fleecing warmth
of my innards creeps all over,
fills the world.
And I can see you wanting in me,
wanting to be engulfed like new brass
pots in the fire, wanting reborn
like Moses and Hadassah.
Let me rock-a-bye you in knots.
it might seem I’m just too heavy
to hold on to. Because I’ve got your mothers
and your mothers’ mothers laced
and threaded all up in me,
running through my veins: lifeblood.
I got your granddaddy’s overalls
tucked beneath my heart, the blue worn pockets
pressed into my hands to make me strong.
You can unfold me in an instant,
but there’s no putting me back—no tucking away again,
hiding the shadow of aunties swaying
to the campfire crackle and knotting us
together in time.
I’ve done been your drinking gourd too long
for you to loose this legacy.
Your Turn: Try your own reinvented-self poem. (Or, if you're a fiction writer, write a paragraph or two in which you similarly reinvent yourself.) How does reinventing yourself in writing change the way you perceive yourself? Or, does it at all? What are the challenges of reinventing yourself this way?
Feel free to share your thoughts and poems (or other writing) in the comments!
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