I is an other.
– Arthur Rimbaud
Mr. Rimbaud may be responsible for our contemporary poetry workshops. The spirit of these words can be heard around any discussion of a poem in terms of its speaker: the speaker seems real; the speaker isn’t believable; it feels as is if the speaker has issues with his father, etc.
Anything to keep from seeing a poem in terms of “the poet.”
Think in terms of Heraclitus who says You can’t step in the same river twice. You can’t step into the same poem twice. Even a week after writing the first draft of something, you come back to the same words a different person. Maybe you’ve picked up some image or phrase in the passing week that can now go into the work at hand, into the work that this ‘other’ you has left to be revised.
Thinking in terms of “I is an other” can free you up as you write, keep you from being stuck to the detailed-oriented defense of trying to write “how it really happened” and open you up to what can happen now. Revising should be about coming back to words for more words. In essence, one is always revising one’s self.
Here’s another bit of Rimbaud in this vein of thought:
Beneath a bush a wolf will howl
spitting bright feathers
from his feast of fowl:
Like him, I devour myself.
(from A Season in Hell)
In one stanza, almost carelessly, he writes down what could be seen as the manifesto for 20th century poetry if not 20th century society. The focus on the self, on uncovering, recovering, and analyzing the self that drives so many memoirs and self-help books – not to mention countless poems in every language – can be seen here.
Below is Stephen Crane’s “In the Desert”, a poem that has a similar effect as the above stanza. I recall Galway Kinnell using it to preface an essay in which he talked about the nature of being a poet.
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
held his heart in his hands,
and ate of it.
I said: “Is it good friend?”
“It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
because it is bitter
and because it is my heart.”
– Stephen Crane