The Collective Poem

https://digitalcitizen.ca/category/writing/Yesterday, I wrote to question the limits of taking on other people’s voices in the first person as a poet, as if the poet had actually experienced the topic to know rather than just imagined it? That is, how legitimate is it for a poet to write about others’ experiences in their own voice, as if s/he could represent the collective voices of humanity? Today, I write to ask questions about a slightly different, but much more limited, poetic collective writing approach. What if the poet still wrote in the first person under the voice of another, or others, but that they had some connection to the poet? That is, collective in this sense means a very finite collective of people, rather than humanity or some segment of it as a collective. Put it another way, instead of the poet writing in the first person as if they were anyone in the human race collective that they pleased, rather than in the third person to tell about it, here, the poet is writing for all members of some small collective, like each member of a family, or both members of a couple, etc. They’d not only be a collective poet to some extent, but would also be writing collective poems where there are contributions from more than one person, all in the first person voice. How acceptable would that be, whether in general or depending on the situation?

The collective poem I just described would be something quite unusual from poems you see. Instead of a poem by the poet, and maybe a poem in response coming from another person (in the first person voice as you’d expect), the collective poem here would be comprised of two or more poems, from two or more authors in the first person. Whether the smaller poems are written all by the poet or not wouldn’t matter as an art form (see this secret writing project of mine), but it would matter for my question on the collective poet because the poet would be writing all the poems, each in the first person as if the poet were that person.

So in this form of collective poetry, let’s say the poet was writing in the first person for both members of a heterosexual couple. Would that be OK generally? Or only in specific circumstances like if the poet were a woman because socially, for a man to pretend to write as a woman, especially if the woman were in a victim or other role deemed to be “inferior”, that’s stealing her voice. But I doubt few would complain if the poet were a woman and writing as if she were both in a relationship where she was a dominatrix, say, with a submissive husband. But an abusive husband writing poetry in his wife’s voice for how she’d respond to anything he wrote, or how she sees and feels about some aspect of their relationship, I doubt too many people would support that!

And would giving voice to others be worse if the adult poet also gave voices to the children in a family in these collective poems? Even if the poet did it accurately, or at least plausibly accurately?

Now, would different rules apply to this form of collective poetry if I, not being Indigenous and being of only one ethnicity, were to write similar poems in the voice of some friends who were Indigenous and/or of other ethnicities, including Caucasian? Or what if I were Caucasian? Form wise, it’d be like writing dialogue about discussions people in this group have, all speaking in the first person, but ethnically, I’m don’t think it’d fly very far, especially on the Indigenous component if someone not Indigenous were writing it given poetry tends to be about pretty personal stuff and not just some factual description of things. Do we have some general rules here, or a mesh of rules? Or just outright, “no”?

Of course, one can create all kinds of small “collectives” with different power dynamics from which to base my collective poem idea around to generate some. With that, are the rules then more groups of rules pending the various situations? Or might there be some general ones like in stand-up comedy not to pick on or put down any demographic treated as “inferior” to the one you belong in? For example, me being Asian males, I could make jokes about Caucausians (above me), visible minorities (same as me), but not women (below me). The key word is “treated“, not “perceived”, because we can argue about whether these demographics are perceived as being equal or not, but the reality is, they are not from treatment in and by society.

What do you think about rules on my collective poem concept?

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