Ourselves, I Sing: Experiments in Selfhood & Humanhood
“It is said to be the age of the first person singular.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson (1827)
In a country that still prides itself on self-reliance and individualism, and that often gives linguistic precedence to personal testimony, do we lose something when we over-rely on the first person as the sole authenticating voice? And in such a potentially insular art form as poetry, do we further risk what George Oppen calls the “shipwreck of the singular”? Is it still possible to make statements beyond the boundaries of the self?
Through daily directed writing experiments and targeted readings from a wide array of classical and contemporary poets and thinkers (i.e., Amiri Baraka, Martin Buber, Charles Baudelaire, Jorge Luis Borges, Aracelis Girmay, Forrest Gander, Jorie Graham, Alice Notley, Fernando Pessoa, Juliana Spahr, Walt Whitman, and Franz Wright) we will challenge ourselves to identify the ways we have relied on the “I” in our own writing and how others have productively, dexterously and thoughtfully integrated it into their work.
Each day’s assignment will harness the fullness of our unique experiences, family and communal histories, philosophies and fields of knowledge, while at the same time encouraging us to explore strategies for respectfully and conscientiously overcoming myopia and isolation. By the end of the week, we will draw upon these new skills to begin to write poems that testify to (and for) our larger humanity. Each student will receive a substantive email at the end of the class outlining strengths in your work and giving you ideas for moving forward.
CHRISTINA DAVIS is the author of An Ethic (Nightboat Books, 2013), Forth A Raven (Alice James Books, 2006) and the manuscript-in-progress Mankindness. Her poems and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Paris Review, Poetry Magazine, and other journals. A graduate of Oxford University, she currently serves as curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University.