Let’s just get to it: one way or another, every poem I’ve ever written is (really) about myself. This is more of a confession than a boast & it’s take a good long while for me to fully wrap my head around what it means. The “it” is the fact that despite my consistent use of persona, of the “other”, of all manner of literary strategies to distance myself from the “self” on the page: all of the poems are my attempt – on paper – to say something about myself. Or, more accurately, my poetry is an attempt to say something TO my self.
Up until quite recently, if you had read one of my poems and asked, “Saeed, is the “I” in that poem you?” I would have given a long, drawn out explanation of the differences between the “I” in a poem and who I am as a person. As a composition instructor at Rutgers, I constantly emphasize to my students that they shouldn’t confuse the author with the “I.” Patricia Smith is writing in the voice of a neo-Nazi. She – as far as I know – is not a neo-nazi. And I stand by that differentiation – for other writers.
As for myself, I am going to own up to the fact that my poetry is a conversation between myself and my selves (oh, yes.. selves as in plural). Some poems are a conversation with who I was, others are involved in an argument with who I am, or need to be, or won’t be, so forth and so on.
Now, I will say that the “conversation” is submerged. Sometimes I don’t realize what’s really being “said” in one of my poems until I return it months or years later. Maybe a reader could see right through the metaphors and line breaks. Maybe not.
All of this is to say that, since I will graduate from my MFA program in less than three weeks, I’m thinking more and more often about my life as a writer (as opposed to my semester or degree as a writer). And if I am going to return to those terrifying blank sheets of paper again and again, I need to be clear: I’m writing these poems because I have a lot of explaining to do.