Poetry International Poetry International

Jan Baeke: 25 Poems about ‘I’

May 25, 2017
J’affirme sur l’honneur / que je n’ai rien à voir avec / moi-même. (André Schmitz) Is ‘I’, first person singular, the most popular word today? This is an easy conclusion to make, given the fact that we all tend to approach the situations we are in primarily from the perspective of the self. And it’s from this individual point of view that we react to what’s happening: I think, I find things to be this way, I do not recognize that, I won\'t have anything to do with this, I do not feel good about that, this does not match what I think, et cetera.
Such an I-centered focus is not unique in history. In the Romantic Era at the end of the 18th century and in the early 19th, artists and thinkers began to take subjective experience as the foundation of art and life. But over time ‘I’ became increasingly democratized. With the counter-culture of the 1960s, awareness of our own feelings and senses grew, and feelings, as we know, are by nature located in and produced by the individual ‘I’. 

Our feelings, and the selves we are, have been paramount since; we each claim our own individual place in the world. Ultimately, thanks to the digital revolution that has brought social media into our lives, we can make ourselves into characters. We are able to live digitally as personae in a story. This digital existence is proof of the makeability of the ‘I’, although much of what we make of ourselves, to speak of the images we build, fits perfectly into the predetermined format of the peer group we long to belong to. What we are all creating, nevertheless, makes use of the forces that have shaped literature throughout the ages: imagination, fiction, metaphor. And there is nothing like poetry to help us see how people make their own invented selves into metaphors that represent a universal and general concept of the individual ‘I’.
As a sample of what can be done, for inspiration and in a comparative mode, we gladly offer you a selection of poems from the Poetry International Web in which notions of individuality and the condition humaine are forged out of language as well as into it.
© Jan Baeke
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère