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11 - ‘Not exactly a persona’: Pronouns in Anne Stevenson's Poetry

Sara Johnson
Affiliation:
University of Hull
Angela Leighton
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

In an interview for Oxford Poetry in 1983, Anne Stevenson explores the role of the personal pronoun in her work, explaining that ‘the “I” I write as is not really the “I” I know, or other people know. It's not exactly a persona, this “I” in the poems. It's more a reflection in a mirror.’ Her claim that she does not know, and others do not recognise, this reflected version of herself, coupled with her assertion that it does not refer to a fictional ‘persona’ either, is intriguing. This foreign mirror image is halfway between an autonomous figure, without personal accountability, and an autobiographical projection of the poet's own self. That Stevenson's poetry is, as Sean O'Brien notes, ‘inseparable from life’ is certainly evident in the numbers of dates and place names included in the titles and texts of her poems, while an early essay, ‘Writing as a Woman’ (1979), discusses for instance how the personal experiences of raising a family and coping with domesticity found their way into the poet's early work.

In a later interview, she again uses the act of looking at her reflection to suggest a relationship between self and other, the known and the unknown. It was like, she suggests, ‘the surrealistic effect you get when looking through a window at night. You can see through the glass to the trees or buildings outside; at the same time you also see your face, or really, through your face.’ This appears to challenge the apparent rupture between herself and the mirror image in the previous quotation. She now recognises herself in the glass, while also looking through herself to the world beyond. ‘You’ has the capacity to represent a presence that is both opaque and transparent, there and not there. Such pronouns, therefore, create their own drama in poems that draw on life’s experiences. While they do not initially attract attention to themselves, the tensions they create often lie at the heart of Stevenson’s poetic purpose.

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Voyages over Voices
Critical Essays on Anne Stevenson
, pp. 164 - 172
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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