Why do poets embrace the persona over the self?

I understand many of the reader complaints about poetry: it’s inaccessible (language poetry), rhyming poetry sounds saccharine, the poetic form is dying, etc. What I can’t understand is the most common complaint voiced by poets: that the self has no place in poetry.

The general consensus between poets is that any poet who writes about the self is inexperienced or, worse, a narcissist. The speaker (or narrator) should not reflect the self (the poet). He or she should exist separate from the self, even if the speaker does reflect the self. If it sounds confusing, it’s because IT IS CONFUSING.

Simply put, an “accomplished” poet will describe a sunset through his or her persona. A reader is then supposed to insert himself or herself into the poem and identify with the speaker’s experience. He or she is supposed to become the speaker. In the same way a teenage girl is meant to fall in love with Edward from Twilight, a reader is meant to appreciate the sunset in a poem. Weird, huh?

I have to wonder: why can’t a poet embrace the immediacy of his or her own experience? A reader can identify with a poet’s experience; after all, most people who read poetry do so in order to feel moved by another individual’s perspective. In placing so much emphasis on the speaker as Everyman, the speaker becomes like Bella, the brown-haired, brown-eyed Everywoman. Do these poets truly not realize they’re writing a kind of Mary Sue?

It is never a good idea to get hung up on “the rules” of poetry. To quote Marvin Bell: “Learn the rules. Break the rules. Make new rules. Break those rules.”

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *