Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Series of Little Lives

OK. So the blog was not back soon. Now it is March. You finish this MFA program on this giant rush, only to be returned to your regular, every day life, but without the reassuring positive input every three weeks of your advisor. After spending weeks and weeks and weeks catching up on all the stuff I'd let go while finishing, now I'm trying to figure out who I am again. Good question.

This of course, is not the stuff of objective identity (I am married, the mother of two children, I live in a house in Bethesda, I grew up in Vermont, I work for the federal government)--not the facts, Jack, but the stuff of subjective identity--and here, I am not trying to be a philosopher of any particular stripe--in fact, my definitions are probably just my own--but the subjective view of the self, the view from the inside out, not the outside in, the projection of the self upon the world. Who do I want to be? Not who am I and where am I and what am I. The long view from inside the tunnel and up toward the faint luster of aspiration. The self in the distance.

Two things happened semi-recently: I was reading a piece on lyric poetry by David Baker in VQR and read these sentences--"Epic poetry embraces the expansive history, the continuity of a whole culture. Dramatic poetry serves as a more narrowed--in the narrative sense--performance of voices and types. And lyric poetry sings the song of the self." Your basic twist on all the traditional definitions of those things--and of course he goes on to complicate that, as an essayist must (note to self--put this issue back in your bag because you never finished the essay). And, just before that, I went to hear Victoria Chang read at the Folger, along with two other readers in a group that was billed as "emerging Asian-American poets." The discussion period after the reading of course addressed the issue of what do you think about being grouped that way? Do you consider your poems to be "Asian-American"? And a fairly predictable, if well phrased series of responses to those questions were given by the poets, including cultural pride, fears of being pigeon-holed, questioning the PC culture.

I noted in the margin of VQR (at some point a few weeks ago), because there have been many of these sorts of anthologies (Asian-American, women, mothers, fathers, African-American, etc.): Are our efforts to group/anthologize historic/ethnic/gender voices sort of a contemporary stab at the function of epic? To tell the story of a culture or other group, but in multiple voices?

Another note on identity: was reading perhaps a Richard Cohen column in the op-ed section of the Washington Post (can't quite remember) about how much Richard (or whomever) admired Al Gore's ability to reinvent himself after the lost election of 2000, to return to his earlier, set-aside interest and identity as environmental crusader. Cohen noted that his wife says we have not one life that must be reinvented or changed, but, rather, that life itself is a series of little lives. This makes sense to me, and is one of the most sensible and intelligent things I've heard Richard Cohen say in quite some time.

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