I’ve always thought poetry as something very personal. As such, when you wrote in the first person voice, you are writing of your perspective and/or your experiences. If you wrote about someone else’s perspectives and/or experiences, like how Chaucer wrote of others’ tales, or how Coleridge wrote of Kubla Khan, among many other examples, you wrote then in the third person voice, aside from personal quotes of certain characters. However, in my newly intensified exposure to modern poetry, I have seen more examples of poets writing in the first person about perspectives and/or experiences not their own. That’s fine as a literary tool in prose, but I’m not yet comfortable with that aspect for poetry given how I associate poetry as something deeply personal, even if only on choice of expression to tell someone else’s story… as if you knew it rather than as if you were it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks of poetry as something deeply personal to be handled this way, but, it seems, the world doesn’t agree with me.
If the world thought it were wrong to take on the voice of another in poetry, as if you had lived some experience and/or share the perspective of another through your imagination rather than your reality, it’d have trashed modern poets like Rupi Kaur, whose poetry I and the general world love. In her first collection, milk and honey, she wrote poems as a female victim of incestuous sexual abuse from the victim’s Father and how it has damaged her as a person. That is about as far from the loving Father she has, so far as I can tell, from her later collection, that seems more believable than the victim’s Father. I thought I had seen a note somewhere about how some of the poetry was fictitious, but I can’t find it, leaving to me to wonder if it’d be “right” to lead the reader to believe those victim perspectives and poems were those of her reality rather than her imagination?
Further, where does one draw the line of taking on a victim’s voice? Is doing that OK for sexually abused women but not Indigenous women tell their tales of abuse? Could Rupi have written acceptable poetry from anybody’s voice? Across gender, culture, roles, whatever else? What about if a man like me were to take on a female victim’s voice in my poetry? Would that be acceptable? Or is it like with stand-up comedy, where you can’t make put down jokes about any demographic currently treated as being below you on the social scale, like if you were Caucasian you can’t make put down race jokes, but you could if you were a visible minority, though you couldn’t still as a man to make put down jokes about women.
Now, I thought Rupi did a really “good” job to write very believable poems in that victim’s tone, among other victims like women in abusive relationships, and I think the world would agree considering its love and support for Rupi’s poetry. But to play devil’s advocate in a plausible scenario, what if a man like me had penned those poems? It’s not that unimaginable. How would the world have reacted then, to have something captured so well but by someone more associated as the abuser than the victim? Would the world even accept those poems had I written then, even if the world could relate so powerfully to those poems as it had done with the very same poems penned by Rupi?
Perpendicular to all that, then, given it seems to be all right to at least take on others’ experiences as one’s own in poetry to some extent, like Rupi did for the female voice in some of her poems as she is a woman, what if I, as a man, wrote counter poems in the first person as the villain’s voice? Other than that the world would accept narratives from the victim more than the perpetrator, I would be doing nothing different than Rupi… and narratives from the villain is hardly rare or taboo in prose. But would that be acceptable for me to do?
The thought to write first person, villainous counter poetry to Rupi’s sexual abuse victim poems, about the same experiences, feels horridly wrong in every single way. But for its edginess and curiosity to see how the world would react, I am really tempted to try and see! However, what will keep me from ever doing so is that unlike Rupi, who seems to be able to capture the victim mindset and voice very well in her poem, I highly doubt I could capture the abuser’s mindset and voice to any real likeness to put in verse to test out my theory. All I’d get would be the appropriate trashing of how dare I even attempt such a thing given how terribly “off” the poems would be, rather than a “believable” product that would further the debate instead of derailing it. Perhaps one day, someone more able to do that villainous poetry might also get the same idea and try, and then I will see, but for now, at least, you can ponder for yourself and see what you think. Do share if you didn’t mind!