three views of me...

Self-Portrait, Undeveloped, 2000

Sandra Scolnik

(Oil on wood panel)

Self-Portrait, Three Times, 24.1.90, 1990

Gerhard Richter

(Oil on photograph)


Adrienne Rich

In Those Years

In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and, yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to

But the great dark birds of history screamed
        and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks
        and pinions drove
along the shore, through rages of fog
where we stood, saying I

            – from Dark Fields of the Republic, 1995


Understanding the self, an impartial or fractured venture at best, is only possible when one knows the landscape. I move toward creative works that struggle with this dilemma.


C. E. Chaffin said...

Cliche'd, melodramatic and overblown, with a long nod to "Leda and the Swan" at the end; can't think of Rich without thinking of her BAP editorship which was so mindlessly driven by her PC leanings. Yes, "I"-- as in "I desert my family, I couldn't admit I was gay, my poetry is mostly about me." One poet I will likely never respect.

Here I go again, passionately critical, disrespectful, even--I must be wired like William Logan--though I found his review in the NY Times of Walcott's new "Selected" much more toothless than his bloviations of yore. Heterodoxy always yield to orthodoxy to make a mainstream buck, it seems.

poet with a day job said...

Such a beautiful poem. Once I heard Jhumpa Lahiri on NPR in an interview. The interviewer was asking what was for her at first the most shocking thing about the United States. She responded that what perplexed her most was how everyone was talking about themselves, and were really self-absorbed. Her experience had always been from a "we" and "us" perspective, never an "I." I find that true of many Westernized nations, particularly the US (we're very self-absorbed, which could be why it is so hard to organize nowadays)...and it is also true within poetry...trying to move away from the "I" is perhaps where the urge to craft new forms in experimental and language poetry comes from. Unfortunately, you can't ever really lose the ego or the self in writing.

When one sits down to write a poem, it is the epitome of the "I" since writing is such a solitary action. I find that conflict one of the most resonant things in Rich's poem for me: how do I find community, how do I lose the self to the wave of the all - while I sit here, alone, writing a poem?

And I think the answer is: many people have to read that poem, and the connection of the we is therefore made.


Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Again we don't agree, CE. I try to attach - though I'm not always successful - no biography or as little as possible to poetry. For me, it gets in the way. If I tried to pull in too much or even too little biography, I'd never read Pound. That would be a big mistake.

As for Rich,I consider Diving into the Wreck to be one my favorite collections I've ever read. But - poetry isn't objective, so it comes in or it doesn't. "In Those Years" moves me. That's all I know. Thanks, always, for the read.

Melissa - "how do I lose the self to the wave of the all - while I sit here, alone, writing a poem" - That is the struggle. But as a writer - and this is me relating to my own approach - if I don't let go of the I, the poem has a hard time coming in. You are absolutely right about the US and the Western mind. Thanks so much for the read.

C. E. Chaffin said...

Sam, I violated my own rule of analysis in attacking Rich, I apologize. I hold to the same "non-biography" school as you, would never read bios as an editor, in fact the inclusion of a bio might have prejudiced me a little against a poet, especially if presented before the poems. Still, Rich's editorship of BAP was revealing of her taste in poetry at the very least.

Collin said...

Great art, great poem. Period.

cogresha said...

I have never read this poem. Thank you. I'm sure every culture has lamented their failure in rising above who they are as a group, and this one is no different, but the circumstances do seem to be different, and a little too close to the precipice.

This poem is exactly the opposite of a self indulged "I" poem. This poem is lamenting the human condition, the "silly, ironic, terrible" human condition. Maybe she gives too much credit to those that came before us by saying "we lost track/of the meaning of we, of you," because I wonder if we ever were on track? but I still am quite taken by the image of "dark birds of history" disrupting "our personal weather." Our history, both personal and societal, will always thwart our quest to live completely insular lives.

Speaking from the future seems like something more and more artists will do. I think in a way this poem speaks from the same apocalyptic terrain as McCarthy's "The Road." The individual cannot survive without the group. This absence of the "we" is what will ultimately destroy billions of "I's."

So this poem seems like a perfect poem in the sense that it deals with our personal AND societal flaws, and how those interact.

The idea that confessing intimate truths automatically means it is universal is not one I agree with, and maybe Ms. Rich has been guilty of this, but not in this poem.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read, Collin.

And cogresha, wonderful ideas. Can't help but agree with you about the destruction of the I's. I really appreciate your read and your comments.