more on the Plural I from guest poet Carol Burbank

inside I contain multitudes
Carol Burbank

why don’t we believe
Walt Whitman
when he proclaims
his multitude?

we think, he sings himself,
all that he assumes I dive in
assume, assuming
he only sings in one voice

but what if
he really did (contain multitudes)?
what if his collective consciousness
wasn’t America, but Walt?

what if, over coffee,
(when he could afford it)
he talked to his selves
negotiating the day’s wash

what if, his ink splotching,
he argued revisions
with a buxom washer woman
who hated adjectives, craved strong verbs

and lived inside his head
with a petulant schoolboy
who resented grammar entirely,
nursing mother more worried about food,
bird dog, longshoreman, and of course the poet

we call Walt,
one man if we take his skin
as sign, and the writer who burned
his hidden papers

as if to say, it’s me,
I am the only one,
and that chanting Indian,
that weeping priest,

let them be

Poetry as survival – Rukeyser

I don’t believe that poetry can save the world. I do believe that the forces in us wish to share something of our experiences by turning it into something and giving it to somebody: that is poetry. That is some kind of saving thing, and as far as my life is concerned, poetry has saved me again and again.

Muriel Rukeyser

Thoughts on the Plural I

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what we mean when we say “I,” how that is a convenient, singular screen for something very complex and not at all singular. Is “I” who I am today, who I was yesterday, who I might be? My work self or home self or first date self? My online flirting self, or the me you actually go out with? I’m starting to struggle with this question in some of my writing—more on that soon. For now, these two great quotes from that poet of the personal plural, Walt Whitman.

from “Song of Myself” 51

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

from Days Books and Notebooks

What a history is folded, folded inward and inward again in the single word “I.”

Poetry as protection from earthquakes, chaos, and disorder

from Gregory Orr’s amazing essay collection Poetry as Survival:

The shape of a doorframe also represents a powerful architecture—during earthquakes, people are advised to stand in doorways because they are stronger and safer than anyplace else in a house. It’s possible to imagine the rectangle of a doorway as the rectangular shape of the page where a poem appears. When we are at an existential or psychological edge, the instability of subjectivity is potentially as dangerous as the chaos of a minor earthquake, and the rectangular shape of the page with its poem can be as reassuring as the doorframe in which we seek shelter.

In our daily lives, the image of the threshold can be useful, too. The threshold is that place where we become aware that we are on the borderline between disorder and order. It can be like standing at the brink of a cliff, or the edge of an ocean, or the beginning of a love affair. In other words, it can be threat or thrill (or, perhaps most accurately, it is both at once).

On a day-to-day basis our threshold is constantly shifting and disappearing and being repressed out of anxiety, whereas in poetry we seek out poems that can take us to our threshold (or one of our thresholds). It is just such a place where we feel most alive, where both exchange of energy and change itself can happen. It is on a threshold, at the edge, where we are most able to alter our understanding of the world and of our own lives in it.