In her comment on my review of Paul Henry’s The Brittle Sea, Sheenagh Pugh linked to her excellent interview with him.
One very interesting point was their discussion of many readers’ failure to recognize that “I is a lie”. In fact, Henry mentioned that he had left certain strong poems out of the book due to this pitfall.
My own use of personae leads me to similar problems. I write from the point of departure of my surroundings, but the whole creative point of a poem is the way it takes off into fiction through the voice(s) of its character(s). While working in a vacuum where I was distanced from readers and editors, I felt sure that people implicitly understood the concept as soon as they approached a poem. In fact, the publication of my pamphlet led to several reviews which assumed autobiography at every turn. I was amazed!
The mere fact that I write poetry rooted in the everyday doesn’t mean that it’s factual or experience-based. This separation of the author and personae was drummed into me in my schooldays, so I find it frustrating that such misinterpretation is still rife, especially in poems that are set in recognisable contexts, as if accessible verse were a confessional diary.
Writing in the first person is important to me as a means of creating intimacy with my character(s). It forms a key component in my exploration of identity and belonging. I realise that this approach runs risks, but I’m more determined than ever to develop its potential. A strong cast lends extra texture to a book, something I’ll be keeping in mind as I work towards my first full collection.
The TS Eliot shortlist for 2017 was announced six weeks ago. As Sandeep Parmar pointed out in her short article in The Guardian: ‘For those who have champi...