Talking To My Selves

by Lu Cong

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.


6 responses to “Talking To My Selves

  1. One of the greatest joys is revisiting an old poem only to discover something new about yourself.

  2. Nice post. I get what you’re saying. I’m sort of the same way. I was so proud of myself when I finally wrote a poem about something outside of myself recently (though even as I type this comment I’m thinking about all of the ways it was really about me lol). So how’s the writer’s life outside of school shaping up? Care to share some of your post-mfa plans?

  3. There was never a doubt in my mind that the “I” in your poems were referring to you. I read most of your works with ease; but, some with anxiousness and apprehension. Nevertheless, writer you are. Congratulations on your present and future sucesses.

  4. Lovely post. Lots to think about, as always.

  5. Sometimes the “I”-persona is hard to separate from the poet-self. Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” does echo her biography, yes. But it was writtten in a moment of intense creative anger/depression—so it becomes difficult to peel back the layers of “truthful” metaphor. Did she really have an electra complex, or was it a workable symbol that fit her moods?

    You brought out a good subject today!

  6. Jessie carty

    It is such a great topic and I love what you say about the poems always giving you something to say to yourself. I’m struggling with some of my poems right now with wondering so what? I have to get the issue of audience out of my head and get back to writing for me. Thanks for reminding me of that 🙂

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