While I’m in the mood to post old publications, I can’t leave out “A Natural Affliction” which was also printed shortly after I got my BFA (scroll through that link, you’ll find me). This poem is a result of a walk through the Lincoln Park Conservatory in Chicago. I was really young and really romantic then. I had taken a train all the way from Cincinnati to Chicago, in fact, and had arranged to stay in a youth hostel with my other idealistic, artsy friends. While I didn’t write anything on the trip, this poem came from reviewing all the plant names I had written down, then researching quite a few noxious weeds. The poem ends with an invasion of the dreaded woolly nightshade (click on the picture for more info):
It’s interesting to me now because the “you” in this poem is romantic. As many of you know, I stopped writing poetry for quite a few years not long after this poem. I wonder if it is because I thought this poem was the best thing I had ever written, and I couldn’t reproduce it. I know now that’s because this “you” was such an inauthentic lyric subject for me.
In a recent workshop I had with the poet Mary Ann Samyn, she said the “you” is always someone specific (for her it is romantic). This subject (whether romantic, parental, etc) should come from a real emotional space. I feel, then, that a large part of me finding my voice again was finding that “you” that is most authentic–the one I need to speak to most. My best “you” lately is my child (not my physical child, but the idea of him), and at times an authority, at times God.
If you are a poet, what sort of “you” do you return to?