“Why can’t “I” be imagined on the page?”

Why do I feel pressure from peers to remove the narrative “I” from my poems? Why am I encouraged to remove the narrator’s intensely personal details? Why can’t “I” be imagined on the page?


As a gay person, I don’t believe I have the luxury of removing “me” from my poems. And, frankly, I’m tired of worrying about being relegated to the margins of contemporary poetry for writing about the body, for writing with emotion, or for using the narrative “I.” Recently I saw a news article about a politician in Alabama who is introducing a bill to the legislature with the hopes of removing all public funding from libraries & universities that have books with gay or bisexual characters in them or that promote homosexuality as a valid lifestyle. My first thought was: This is absurd. Just because we aren’t talked about doesn’t mean that we don’t exist. Then it occurred to me: If we aren’t talked about, do we really exist?

Aaron Smith on Sharon Olds, from The Very Act Of Telling: Sharon Olds and Writing American Poetry. He is speaking about his response to Olds’s poem I Go Back To May 1937.