Thoughts on Person

When presented with a first or second person poem, I feel as though I am speaking with a close talker. If I like the tone it may be pleasant if I’m in the mood for the subject or energy level, but more likely it will feel “in my face”. If it feels autobiographical, it’s socially awkward because I’m being pulled towards the person but there’s a bracing arm keeping me away because there’s no real dialogue. It’s set text. Even if it’s being workshopped, it’s unlikely to become interactive. And if it does, it’s a different speech act. It’s therapy or it’s conversation or it’s hashing out what does and doesn’t and should and shouldn’t make it to the page. It isn’t literary.
When something is third person narrated, it’s a different beast. There’s a tactful distance that allows the reader to approach the text rather than being hustled towards whatever deal-close of opinion that the story the text is selling. The whole management of raw has been started on. There’s less sense of needing delicacy because there is the structural assurance that the author is self-aware of being in the process of making a meaning from the outside rather than relating a truth. Some contemplated perspective is probably added so the reader doesn’t have to enter braking. Even if seems obviously autobiographical, it can be approached without need of glove and fear of prickly because already a right-sizing of experience into a more manageable distance has been done by the author. One less thing for the reader to do.
When the subject if inanimate or animate, non-human but described in first person it acts like a figurative third person. We know we make-believe. We know there’s a critical intellect already engaged. There’s a disconnect from the essentialism of What is Felt is True Forever and Ever Amen towards the ideology of framing where Everything is Lego i.e. Construction and Deconstruction.
There’s a chance of fluidity and humour where third person exists. When something is first person there tends to be a correlating direction of story towards firming up What Is with mind closed to What Could Be and all the parallel streams of play. It isn’t absolute. One can be fixated and in dead earnest while writing in 3rd person singular passive voice as much as with you and them or exclusively in all the preoccupying vortex persons of I, me, myself, mine.
You is tricky tho. If generic you, if specific you of not present stand in for me as a self-talk to one who is internalized, it could deflect from direct address the same way that she or he can, while avoiding the complexity of hetereonormative set-up of dyad, and the confused anaphoric reference of two hes or two shes.
But if the you is direct address to the known reader, that it tricky to bullseye. Would not one have to speak to self as you and say things so universal and kind that it can be heard by anyone? How to get resonance without being overly forward, making false presumptions, leaping too soon or lagging, overexplaining for a particular audience, in the vacuum of no feedback of writing. It is like synchronized swimming in two separate pools.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting post, especially your comments about ‘you’.
    My first person poems are less likely to be about me than are my third person poems. i like playing around with the viewpoint, partly because of aspects of distance, that you’ve discussed here…

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