The Self in Poetry: A GNAT (Grossly Non-Academic Talk) with a Weaving Metaphor
What else is there?
It is through the self that one organizes, makes sense of, tells the raw sense data of the world, which is everything that is not self.
Objectivity is an idea, not even an ideal, like a unicorn—could but doesn't exist. Everything real is subjective: of, through self.
This talk (without the first person pronoun) begins to sound like the big man on campus—professorial, author-ial, authoritative, authoritarian. Also ridiculous. A mockery. An exercise in excise. Awfully philosophical.
Do you believe that if one changes the relative distance between the self and the reader, or the self and the subject, that the result is a completely different story or poem?
The lack of first person pronoun leads one to make assumptions about others' thoughts, feelings, intentions. Be declarative. Bossy. Rhetorical.
- resolved: the proximity of the self is a formal decision.
- resolved: form is the signature of the self.
- resolved: the subject matter is always the self.
You're right, of course. This is just an exercise. After all, the self has many names, the letter after "h" and before "j" is only the most common term of endearment.
One, you, she can get around it, can speak, so to speak, make speeches without it and the self is still there, for, as has been said before, what else is there? Who else is speaking?
The self is the one who speaks, sees, makes.
Rachel Zucker in preparation for the A.W.P panel on the self in poetry wonders, "what else is there? Other than the self or self & other. Form? Language? The stuff of poetry? Are these ever separate?"
- the relative propinquity and visibility of the self are formal decisions and all formal changes alter content.
- Form (tight weave or basted stitch) is the signature of the self. They create each other.
- What else is worth writing (about)?
The self is the basis for humanity and humility
for measure (the breath)
for sanity (to distinguish the self from others)
for love (to perceive the self in or wanting others)
for health (the immune system's ability to distinguish the self from others)
The basis for separate or same.
The self makes contact with all that is not self and compares and measures. What is separate? What is same? Poetry is this self-expression.
Self=through which everything.
The poet Rachel Zucker, in particular, has always been fascinated by the way her/the integrated self was undoing or undone—moments when this undoing is particularly extreme. The self endangered and vivified. Moments when the "what else is there" question terrifies.
She noticed: the woman is part girl and part daughter and part mother and of all the things she is not: male, dead, etc.
"What else is there?" Well, everything.
One sees color as it bounces off the physical world. One sees the world only ever through the self, bounced off the self. The measure. The basis.
Makes you sane, lonely, and objectified. Available. Love-able.
The literary tradition of great men thought the world a symbol of self as if self came first—a great blazing sun above the roiling sea and lusty wind and were always espousing which means mouthing off and marrying.
They make each other: self + wind + poem = poem + self (sound of wind) reader blown about, pulling the poem in close around her.
What else is there?
How obnoxious this is. Without the ___.
Without the self no other. Real other.
In her particular case something happens. To and in her and from and out of. The self inhabited and doubled and emptied and bursted forth from.
Inside/outside: obsessed with.
Unnatural. Natural. What a woman's body was made to do.
One and one make one inside one and out of one some new someone and what then of the "one"? The first one—woman—is she singular? Broken?
But this is not about babies, is about the self—fractured, liquid, seeping, having literally become multiple, its residue coating everything.
Death does this too, of course, not only birth, birthing. Not only women but that's the self she knows and the self is always, always particular.
By which Rachel Zucker means the white-hot self, the mother-self that burst forth unseen but felt and overtook her—irrevocable.
Without the self the poem lacks.
"Hello? Who's there?" No one? Then, who cares?
Sometimes poems try to go without.
The weather is.
The world is.
The roiling sea.
And people say "the speaker" and "the author," but if they aren't the self who the hell?
The poem is all self. All. The world as apprehended by the self and her senses. And the poem, for Rachel Zucker, at least, is made necessary when the self suddenly becomes visible and unavoidable. Not the reflection of self—narcissus in the still pool or the refracted self, self, self in the corner of the mind's dressing room mirror—but the self itself making and unmaking and being made.
It is the question, "what else is there?" that makes us human and have empathy for there is else: other, world. But never separable or perceptible from/without the self. Certainly not communicable.
(Woven into and from the world into and from the self.)
Do you understand? This is not to say the self is the frame around the poem, oh no. And not to say the self is the seminal seed or spark that makes it (us) all.
Because a poem is not an idea but has a body and this body is the self, let's call it "selvage".
The self in poetry, of poetry, is substance, subject and action. Content and action.
The self and the poem make each other real.
In a woven fabric, the selvage is the uncut edge that is on the right and left as it comes out of the loom. As such it will not fray because the weft threads double back on themselves, unfinished but structurally sound.
The material world run through with the golden thread of self, the subject itself and witness itself doubled back is the made, finished/unfinished thing, everything else unravels or glistens like an emperor's new clothes: idea only.