the narrator in poetry I

As may be apparent from the blog title – and even moreso if you have read the about this blog page – the subject of the narrator is one I feel quite strongly about.

I write a lot of first person poetry and creative non-fiction. I also believe that real life can provide raw material for my writing.

However, despite what many people think, this doesn’t mean that I write about my life.

Sometimes the people who make such an assumption are precisely the people you’d expect to know better. On one occasion, when I took a new “falling in love” poem to the local writers’ group, the comments it provoked were along the lines of, “Oh how sweet. When did you meet him?”

Sometimes the people who might be expected not to know better see things far more clearly than you would expect. My partner chose the same poem as his favourite from a selection I showed him, without questioning why I had suddenly been inspired to write on such a subject after we’d been together for over ten years.

I have a whole collection of poetry – for which I am now looking for a publisher – with a first person narrator. She’s an English-speaking female, she lives in Spain, she’s not as young as she used to be. But is she me? Good Lord, no!

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

5 thoughts on “the narrator in poetry I”

  1. So why do you have a first person narrator then? Why not use “she” instead of “I”?

    (I’m writing my thesis about this topic. I am currently dealing with the discussion of textual vs. authorial intention, mixed with the implied author.)

    Would be glad if you’d aswered. Thanks in advcance!

    Janett

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    1. Hi there, and thanks for the interesting question.

      One reason is shown by the way you’ve used “she” as a third person alternative to “I”. This immediately limits the reading and divides the readers into two groups before they begin. It sets up preconceptions and gender-limitations based on cultural norms etc.

      Some of my narrators are female, some are male, but since ‘the greater human experience’ (if you’ll forgive the phrasing) is universal, I don’t want to exclude or include readers from the start; I want them to opt in or out, according to whether my views and expression thereof correspond to theirs. Perhaps by forcing them to read it in the first person, I’m hoping they will ‘try on the character’ and consider views they wouldn’t have otherwise.

      There are times when the narrator is clearly defined, and limited to a specific type, social group, age, sex, class etc., so perhaps I could write in the third person then, but doing so would move me to an outside observer’s role. If what I am writing is successful, the details should be clear from the voice I’ve chosen, and first person narration keeps me – and the reader – central to the experience, seeing it through the eyes of the central character.

      Thinking through some of the third person pieces I’ve written, I find that some of the characters are the sort whose neighbours say ‘she kept herself to herself’ when it turns out she was a mass murderer, has committed suicide, was having an affair with minor royalty or something. (Note that in theory all those pronouns could be changed to refer to male characters, though it’s true I write more about female characters than male.) In other words, some of them remain third person as I don’t want the reader (or myself) to actually get inside their head.

      I’ll give this some more thought as it is interesting, so please feel free to follow up if you want. Maybe someone else will see this and chip in.

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      1. Hi, thanks for answering. It was quite interesting to read why you would rather use I instead of a third person. You know, I can truly understand that any “hints” serve as “limitations” (or could at least be understood as such) and would thus limit or supress what you mean or intent to say. Still, the question remains if then there is any intention that you have (because you leave it open to almost every interpretation that would come to the reader’s mind) or if the whole point of “I (who is I then? you the person? you the author? you the woman? you the student of poetry? you the wife? you the felt experience? you whoever..) want to tell a story, construct it, because it is neither mine, nor yours” without telling the readers what to think and especially in what ways to interpret your poems. It is the question of intentional fallacy, a concept (just in case you don’t know) that tries to find text internal evidence to any interpretation in contrast to finding the autor’s intention in the autor him/herself (for example by using his bio or whatever).
        So, to round it up: Is it possible and/ or necessary at all to find and need to find the author (as a writer and as the person) in a poem or do poems not necessarily have antyhing of YOU in them? How is it possible to “feel”, “see” or “make believe” that the story of your narrator (either with I or she/he/etc) is reliable when it is not you yourself as a person with experiences now being put into a poem written by yourself as an author, obliged to poetry and stylistic / narrative schemes? Would you want your readers to take your poems as individual constructions without having anything about you (and who/what/how you are) or is there indeed “some” direction you’d like to give?

        In the end, this is the whole discussion of romantic vs. new critic perception/ interpretation of poems :-) Sorry, but I would be sooooo interested in hearing your opinion. It is impossible to “find” poets (coz most of them are dead, sadly) but so many people from the scientic community are still trying to find the “true (author’s name –> you can take any)”.

        Thanks so much in advance!

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      2. There is much here that is worth discussion, so I’m sending a more complete answer via e-mail. Note that everything I say here is based on my personal attitude to what I write, not on any kind of textbook ‘rules’. You probably should try and get other opinions for comparison.

        I admit that there is almost certainly something in my life that triggers the writing of a poem, but it isn’t necessarily something real that actually happened to me. It may be a personal experience, or something I read or overhear, or something from today that I connect through to something half-remembered from the past etc. That kernel of an idea is then extrapolated and fleshed out, and linked with other images and ideas to create a poem. The same trigger can inspire different poems in different styles or forms, and with different protagonists, and the additional information may, again, come from my personal life, or from research or imagination.

        I’ve just added a new post to the blog where I discuss this in more depth, as I think there’s more chance readers will find a recent post and respond, and I’d be interested in other opinions.

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