In Which I Invent a Man
Impossible Archetype (31 Aug 2020)
Download PDF: Issue 8
Nominated: 2022 Pushcart Prize XLVI
I’m not sure yet what kind of poet I am or what kind of poetry I write. I write a lot of confessional poetry, but the few pieces of my confessional poetry that have been accepted and published so far are lyrical in tone, with lots of elevated, figurative, sometimes opaque language that lets me retain emotional distance from the material.
Early last year, I attended a reading featuring poets Dorianne Laux, Anders Carlson-Wee, and Edgar Kunz. All three poets write poetry with persona narrators that speak in a more matter-of-fact tone than I typically deploy in my poems. I was surprised and moved by how much beauty, emotion, and insight straightforward language can pack into a poem. I started experimenting with a more matter-of-fact tone in my own poems soon after, and have noticed ever since that I have more control of language even when my persona narrators get more lyrical.
I’m happy to report that one of these experiments in tone was recently published in Issue 8 of Impossible Archetype. “In Which I Invent a Man” is decidedly more matter of fact in tone than earlier poems in which I tried to get at the same material.
Not that there isn’t still play with language and sound. There’s nothing inherently wrong with opaque, lyrical language, and nothing particularly right about straightforward, matter-of-fact language; it’s control of tone that has transformed my poems for the better. That’s what I learned from the three poets I listened to while they read from their work. Their control of tone is something many teachers and other writers have been trying to help me with for years, but it wasn’t until I listened to and read the poetry of Dorianne Laux, Anders Carlson-Wee, and Edgar Kunz that I finally began to pay attention to and adjust tone in useful ways. If lyricism and matter-of-factness are at two ends of a spectrum, it took reading and hearing both ends in action for me to finally see how to put them to use in engaging ways.
It’s scary to me that this poem is out in the world. I wrote about things I still feel emotionally raw about, almost exactly as they happened, in a way that I hope is accessible and engaging for readers. And I’m worried about who might read this poem, though I decided several years ago that I was going to write about whatever and whoever the heck I wanted to, no matter what the consequences, as long as I do so with some empathy and new understanding for everyone involved, including me.
I’m thankful to Mark Ward and Impossible Archetype, as always. He’s a fantastic poet (read his essential books Circumference and Carcass) and his LGBTQ+ journal continues to be a must-read twice-a-year survey of our community’s various experiences and perspectives.