It’s not necessarily about me

Shortly after the poem about my mother’s cooking appeared in Carousel, my sister said she still hadn’t seen my poem about Drew. It gave me a bit of a start, because I hadn’t published a poem about him as far as I could recall.

It turns out she meant “A sonnet for my love on the eve of the zombie apocalypse,” which appeared late last year in Caesura. As it contained the words “my love,” she’d assumed it was about my partner. It’s not.

It could be, in the abstract way that poems of this type could be about anyone, but I hadn’t intended it to be specifically about us. For one thing, we don’t own shotguns, and, all in all, we’re woefully unprepared for such a scenario, unlike the characters in my poem. I think of this as my zombie poem, not as a poem about Drew.

And that’s the crux of it. Many of my poems are personal, or contain elements from my personal life, because I’m writing them from my person, but equally as many are not. They contain fictional characters, sometimes designated by “I” or “she” or other abstract terms, but they’re not necessarily about me, even as I write them, even as I (sometimes) identify with them.

It’s an ironic truism that people will read personal details into fiction, while distrusting memoir, but what of poetry, which often deliberately blurs the lines between the two? For my part, I abide by Hassan-i Sabbah’s maxim: Nothing is true, everything is permitted.

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