Me, Myself & I; or on Using First Person in Lyric Poetry & Novel Writing

Girls in the Grass Arranging a Bouquet (Fillette couchée sur l'herbe et jeune fille arrangeant un bouquet)

  • In response to an interview question “Is there a poem you are a little embarrassed to like?” Kathleen Flenniken, formerly Poet Laureate of Washington State, said:

“Not so much a particular poem, but I feel defensive about one genre of poems that still speaks to me—the first person lyric grounded in everyday experience. It’s unfashionable, but it’s what brought me to writing.”

Poet Judy Kronenfeld knows the feeling,

“I admit to a similar impulse, at times, to the instinctive or deliberate use of “you,” “she,” “they,” or even “we,” as opposed to “I,” or the avoidance of pronouns altogether. I also admit to related impulses such as connecting the personal to history and politics, or writing by means of the portrayal of objects, without persons at all—which can make a poem feel, well, more “objective.” These impulses stem—at least in part—from an unease similar to the one that seems to lie behind Kathleen Flenniken’s statement.”

“…when a gatekeeper encounters a first-person manuscript, it goes without saying that a little red light goes on (from his/her past experiences) that chances are pretty good this mss came from a… less seasoned writer. And, it’s just a fact of life and the business of writing that the newer the writer, the less likely the mss will be of publishable quality.”

However, the good news is that

“If it’s a book that should have been written in first rather than third, and it’s written well and is of publishable quality, no problem. Any good editor or agent will be able to tell within a couple of pages if it’s written well or not, no matter what POV stance the author has elected.”

  • Do you use first person in your writing? Do you opt for third person because of the notion that it makes your writing “more objective”? Are you fond of reading/writing lyric poetry “grounded in everyday experience”?

Share in the comments. And if you’ve enjoyed the post, press “like” and “share” buttons — thank you.

Image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Girls in the Grass Arranging a Bouquet (Fillette couchée sur l’herbe et jeune fille arrangeant un bouquet), c. 1890. Oil on canvas, Overall: 12 13/16 x 16 9/16 in. (32.5 x 42 cm). BF155. Public Domain.

 

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