On Writing Poetry, Part 2: Self-Implication & the Sense of Self

by Taylor Gianfrancisco

Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Even though it is debated whether he is the first one to recognize the natural duplicity of all artists, the acknowledgment of the quote in this article is to emphasize that there are no original stories or poems. For writing (or any art in particular), the appeal of the work is in the different perspective it has.

The authorial perspective in poetry is on the sense of self, also known as self-actualization. The definition of self-implication, coming from the law term self-incrimination, means the act of exposing oneself. In the literary context, self-actualization comes to signify all that encompasses a speaker or narrator—and, depending on the story or poem, does not achieve self-actualization. Self-implication is used more often to humanize the character.

Because the intrinsic component of a poem is the firsthand account of an experience, having the narrative “I” in poetry brings a level of intimacy. In Naomi Ayala’s poem “Hole,” the speaker tells us about a “dark shadow digging and digging” to compel us to read further and investigate alongside the speaker. To experience the poem along with them. The self-implication in this poem is interestingly crafted—the personification of the hole allows you, as a reader, to dwell on your own nostalgia and emotions of loss along with the speaker’s.

Another example is Silvia Curbelo’s “The Lake Has Swallowed the Whole Sky.” Perhaps it is that the speaker is the plural singular perspective of women, or maybe it is the poem’s fluid movement from image to image. What Curbelo does not sacrifice, though, is the integrity of her voice. The style of the poem reflects on the both concrete and abstract images, as well as on self-implication:

Everyone touching his lips
to something larger, the watermark

of some great sorrow.

As you write, consider this: an image may seem spellbinding and evocative of what you plan to write, but the importance is not on the image. It’s about how you convey the image and experience. Some poets use the craft very simplistically and focus on the images or the self-implication, never both. To avoid this error and advance your skill, keep in mind the tenet of self-implication while writing: that no one, not even your speaker, is perfect and all-knowing.

A poet isn’t any different from a novelist; what marks the difference is how closely they relate to the experience they’re writing. Some poets may experiment with perspective to distance themselves from the subject of their poem; others feel closely aligned to the personal experience and may stick with the first-person point of view. Regardless, knowing what exactly self-implication in writing is will help you cultivate your own style and voice. It will help you understand your character or speaker better and develop them more thoroughly, make them more human.

Self-implication in literature is funny—it’s not about fulfillment or enlightenment but reflecting on both your flaws and strengths. Your sense of self is what motivates you to write compelling perspectives and characters; your self-implication is more editorial and critical, asking you to revise and reconsider how the event really unfolded.

Self-implication does not have to be dramatic or an intense moment of conflict. Many great poets and writers highlight self-implication in their works by focusing on its intent first, then editing it with their full attention to detail over and over again. The final draft is not whether you think you have achieved literary enlightenment or the right balance of concrete and abstract imagery, but on the textual cohesion of images, self-actualization, and urgency.

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