The Omnipresent Narrator

So, I was looking into narrators this week because I’m struggling with appropriately characterizing a narrator in one of my poems. My preliminary research suggests there are three types of narrators in poetry:

  1. A narrator who is involved, perhaps as a main character, in the events of the story
  2. A narrator who is present and tells what she observes
  3. A narrator relating events completely outside a moment she was present for

Can you switch between these narrators in the same poem? What would be the effects? If you switch the narrator, must you always switch the person? It seems 1 and 2 could be interchangeable with some chronology work, but not 3. Are certain narrators omniscient?

Every piece of poetry has a narrator (Or is that actually true?) – every piece of poetry with a story has a narrator. How separate can the narrator ever be from the poet – is the narrator not always, in some ways, a reflection of the poet?

For example, when thinking about writing minorities, would I always be writing the minority experience through the lens of a white woman, perhaps through the lens of a white woman’s certain lack of privilege? Is there any way to disengage from my own truth in a poem, and simply write what the poem wants to be?

Or is the fact that I am the person in which the poem originated going to color it so much that it, and the narrator within it, can never truly be separate from me?

3 Replies to “The Omnipresent Narrator”

  1. I think that your mention of narration as a reflection of self is an important distinction to make. The narrator, in my opinion, can’t ever escape their particular experience and how their present and past influences their writing. The brain forms unique connections in every person, and those connections might not ever be exactly the same for any two people. Can we really speak for another person’s experience, and can we really consider any experience universal? I think you’re getting somewhere with this discussion, and it might help to bring it up again later as you go through the semester.

  2. Hi Meaghan,
    I want to focus on one of the final questions you asked: How separate can the narrator be from the poet?
    I have always heard that poets and fiction writers can never write a piece without leaving their mark on it somehow, and I believe this to be true. No matter what kind of narrator I write in, for example, Kate Florence Philip’s daughter, there were still stylistic qualities in my work that make it mine. I choose all the little details that made up the narrator’s mother–it’s sad to say it, but I don’t know if any of those details about the mother’s appearance or the father’s candy shop were true. I made those places my own and, in essence, put a piece of myself into the poem. I have always seen bits of myself, if not myself, in my narratives and poems. I honestly think this question depends on the writer, but in my opinion, anything you write will be a part of you and you will be a part of it.

  3. Meghan,

    I think a lot of the questions you posed here relating to what it means to attempt to write as a marginalized identity of which you are not a part is a complex conversation that will likely continue throughout the rest of the semester and far beyond. In fact, I’m not even going to try to respond to those questions in this comment because there is a lot that I need to think about and try to work through there. However, as far as separating the self from the speaker, or the author from the speaker, I think it is safest to approach it this way: As an author, be aware of the reader’s tendency to equate author and speaker, and be aware of the intrinsic self that you will bring to anything you create. As a reader, never project an assumption that author is equal to speaker. I find that I get the most fruitful readings of poems, and the most organic writing of poetry from prescribing to these ways of thinking about speaker vs. self/author. However, there are always exceptions to this. In fact, I think marginalized identities are a great example of the exception. Knowing that an author is black, for example, will certainly affect my reading of a poem that has racial undertones. But what does this say about what it means to be a minority writer? Can minority writers never separate themselves from their speakers? Is this a flaw in myself, or the many of us who read poetry this way? Or is this assumption one that would be detrimental not to make? This is where things get super complicated. Sorry this comment wasn’t super helpful. Thanks for bringing up the speaker vs. author conversation, though. It’s super interesting!


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