Someone Who Knows A Lot About You...
Someone recently asked me about the role of the "speaker" in poems. Many times, people begin reading poetry and assume the voice in the poem (also known as the "speaker") is the poet. This is an assumption that shouldn't be made. The best quote I've heard about this topic is from Marvin Bell who said, "The speaker in my poems is not me, but someone who knows a lot about me."
Writing from autobiography is natural and normal, but it can limit your poems if you believe you must stick to the facts. So your grandmother's sweater was red, but blue sounds more sad and better for the poem. You always do what's best for the poem. Poetry is not about honesty, but truth.
Poetry is creative writing and not memoir. We draw from our experiences because we are human and we write about our obsessions, passions, and what is interesting to us. We write what we know, but we also write about what we don't know...and if we do it well enough, the poem is successful.
I don't think poets should pretend to be something they are not, like creating a whole false backstory to their lives to make themselves more marketable (and if you want to be more "marketable," you should be writing fiction, or memoir, or something else besides poetry because this is not the table where the money is being handed out. . .)
I write poetry because I cannot not write poetry. Being a Capricorn and a poet who likes nice things, sometimes I have to laugh at the path I've chosen. But I realize, this path though rarely with a secure paycheck, is the path where I want to be.
Yesterday in the mail, I received "Your Social Security Statement," that report that has your life's work in dollars documented for all to see. I went back to the time in my life when I was making the most money at my corporate job: 1995. If money=happiness than I should have been delirious that year, but actually, that was the year I started planning my escape from corporate America. That was the year where I wanted to run away. That was the year I had no idea what was going on in the world because I was underwater in reports and budgets.
Yes, 1995-- the year when I felt the least happiest because I had no time to write and I knew I was on the wrong path. I was becoming my father. I worked long hours and my husband would call me at work to ask when I was coming home. That year I planned a trip to London to get perspective on things, to retrace the steps of T.S. Eliot and the Bloomsbury Group, to visit the Manuscript Room in the British Museum, to take remember who I wanted to be and how far I was walking away from that person.
This year, according to the SS report, I actually made some money writing, however, it was a little less than the money I earned at a part time job my senior year in high school when I was saving for my graduation trip to Hawaii. Still, this last year as an MFA student, making the least amount I've ever made, not working (for the first time in my life since 1986) was probably one of the happiest in my life.
Today in the shower I couldn't get that Beatle's song out of my head, "Can't Buy Me Love." And I couldn't figure out where in the world that song arrived from, but maybe it was part in me that knows that, the "speaker" in myself who steers me back on track when I start making decisions not from my heart, but from my head. I know (though I have to remind myself this again and again) that I need to live from that place of trust and not of fear. If someone were to ask me what I am here to learn on this earth, this would be answer.