#412: A Poem from Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice on April 8, 2022

My soul is an
unruly wasteland,
which is to say that
it’s always in trouble,
always digging
through the wreckage, 
always searching for
greener pastures,
unsatisfied, hungry,
desperately reaching
for a mirage of
cool, clear water.

A Note on Today’s Poem: The assignment from Napowrimo today was to write an alter-ego poem. I passed on that particular prompt in favor of a poem from Taylor Mali’s metaphor dice, writing metaphor poems today along with my 10th grade students. I realize now, though, that this IS in fact an alter-ego poem, as it really does not represent in the least my normal outlook and attitude about things. As a person who aspires to be “soulful,” whatever that means, I would not likely describe my soul as being at all like a wasteland. But of course–there are always moments, right, and our alter-egos, rather than some kind of superhero or alternative and yet positive version of ourselves, tend to be rather shadowy, I’d say. Which brings me to the main reason for wanting to compose a little note here at the end.

I was having a conversation with a colleague about teaching the concept of “speaker” in the study of poetry. The concept is explained like this: the speaker is the one who speaks in the poem and we can’t assume that speaker is the poet. And that’s true, especially when a poet invents a persona through which to “speak.” Robert Browning has never murdered his girlfriend by strangling her with her hair. We can be pretty certain about that. Porphyria’s lover is a character, an invention, an artifice. But: can we EVER say that the speaker in a poem is in actual fact an autobiographical representation of the poet? I think we can. Seamus Heaney’s poems come to mind–in particular the poems from Death of a Naturalist. The speaker in “Midterm Break” is unmistakably Heaney as he tells the story of the day on which his four year old brother was killed by a car. And, at the same time–I think of Stafford’s comment in an interview that there are things he’s written in his poems that he wouldn’t stand by in real life–for example, a poem that characterizes his parents in a way that is not especially “true” in his experience. So–the conclusion I reach, and one of the things I love about poetry, is that the concept of the speaker, the particular choice the poet makes about the voice that emerges from the text, is one of infinite possibility and for the reader or listener, a line of inquiry that might be full of pitfalls!

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