Saturday, August 27, 2005

The i and the &

There are two tropes of many modern poems that often thoroughly confuse me, though I have tried both myself. They confuse me, because I'm not getting what they're all about. I don't have a particular bias for or against any style, but I feel like there should at least be some point involved, some reason for the poet doing something and/or something that the poet wants to show. I'm not sure what the point is behind the i and the &:

1. the uncapitalized "i": The first one is the uncapitalized "i." Yeah, I get it -- the world is grand, you're insignificant vis-a-vis the world, you're way too modest, etc. But why do poets that use the uncapitalized "i" usually use it over and over again in the same poem? Doesn't that defeat the purpose? I mean, you're already talking about yourself and what you're thinking and feeling, so you might as well just capitalize the "i." I think that the "i" would only serve a purpose if it was in a poem that meant it -- that wanted to distinguish the "i" from the "I" in some meaningful way, for example.

2. and for "&": If the previous technique is used more often by poems that are more "personal" and "political," then the "&" is used more often in "language" poems. The "&" perplexes me even more. This one must be some inside joke that I'm not getting here. Using a symbol for a three-letter word seems rather pointless to me, which might merely mean that I'm ignorant if there really is a point that I've missed. I'd like to be invited to the party (the party where we bob for candy-appled "&'s," play pin the tail on the "&," swing at the giant "&" pinata, etc.) but I haven't yet.

I'm willing to venture that at least the first couple poets who used the i and the & actually had some important reasons behind this decision. There must have been some original justification that meant something.


Blogger Andrew said...

e.e. cummings, pioneer of discarding the rules of grammar most certainly had reasons for doing what he did. He's quite famous for the "i" and I know he used "&" on occassion. But no one has really ever managed to duplicate his success.

I see little justification for "i" in most poems; "&" might be used to show that the language of the poem is extremely casual. It's the kind of thing you might see on a quickly or poorly made sign and the poet may want to conjure up that feel to his poem.

2:03 PM  
Blogger arcturus said...

Could the & stand for a musical note, a beginning, an introduction, an abbreviation to a conjunction? Could it not be used as a cipher for where the poet locates his or her natural voice, (whether knowingly or unknowingly)?

8:07 PM  

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