Poems in Retrospect

It’s strange… when I read someone else’s poems, about their life, I always understand the poems that are written at a specific time or from a specific experience or mood or notion to be timeless in a sense, an encapsulation of a moment.

But when I look at my own work, it’s somehow different to me. I just found out about the breakup of a couple of friends of mine who were dating; I was looking through some of the archives of my writing and found a poem I wrote for them, and felt somehow uncomfortable with it, as if real life had somehow contradicted the poem. It’s vaguely the same way when I look at things I’ve written about or for women in my own past… the poem seems still to be an honest and vivid representation of a moment or experience or my disposition to that person at that time. But I feel almost embarrassed by the sense I get from it afterward.

The closest thing I can imagine is for a theist, who spent their whole lives believing in one deity, to suddenly be given divine evidence that that particular diety does not exist, but that powerful ancestral ghosts do. Confusion, shock, and disbelief would come first, but later, once the person had adjusted and (I suppose) begun worshipping the ancestors, or giving up on worshipping anything altogether, I can’t help but imagine a kind of weird sheepishness that would come over them every time they were reminded of their old beliefs and practices.

And yet all those poems do are to encapsulate a feeling, a sense, a moment in the past and a person who experienced that moment, all of which is not actually erased by whatever came after. Love is not erased by the failure of relationships, is it? Or is it?

Why do we feel that strange nervousness when we are confronted with someone or something which is irretreviably (and yet very important as) part of our past and not really part of our present, at least not in anything like the same way that they once were?

I think this mystery holds some of the key to what it means to have an identity, to seek control over who one is… sometimes in spite of who one was, or more paradoxically, in spite of who one now is. The change that happens in reality is not the same as the change we demand of ourselves, or at least not the same as some of us demand of ourselves.

Thus the complication, the sheepishness, and the difficulty accepting the continuity of past and present, as well as the weird disconnection of the two.

Perhaps identity, and the battles and squabbles we have with ourselves over it, are the cause of the fact that, as it seems to me, most people who wish to be writers often never truly understand their own writing nearly so well as strangers, and why their writing is likewise is so rarely understood by the people who care about them personally or know them well.

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