Now, we all know what happens when we assume, but at our meeting on Wednesday, I got the feeling that the overarching opinion of the class was that poems that tell stories are somehow less important, less impressive or not quite as worthy of literary study than poetry that is more vague or symbolic, or anything but a narrative. I would just like to put a word in for the narrative poem – Friedman’s article really spoke to me, particularly when she was talking about the poet as a witness: “one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness” (16). I am by no means dismissing art for art’s sake, because I have no problem with that (in fact, I think it’s great – hoorah for aesthetics!), but I would like to cite the importance of storytelling. It’s how we can learn without making the mistakes ourselves, or feel better about ourselves when we make the mistakes anyway. There are thousands of reasons to listen to and remember stories (“so why do we read literature, anyway?”), and a poetic sequence is a phenomenal way to tell one.
In my own poems, I have been grappling with the problem of including the stories of other people that have, in turn, had an effect on me. I know that when Friedman quotes Morrison as saying “We are the subjects of our own narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience, and, in no way coincidentally, in the experience of those with whom we have come in contact” (17) that she is speaking specifically about African Americans, but I’m going to take that out of context for a moment and use it for myself. I was wondering if it was, in fact, ethical to write about the experiences of another, and I have finally come to the conclusion that it is okay: since I was affected by them, they have, in essence, become my own experiences. I guess there really is no truly personal experience, as most everything is caused by the actions of another.
In conclusion, stories are great. Keep telling them, even if they aren’t entirely yours.