Whoever you are, wherever you are, no matter who writes it, no matter how many times you read it, these words are always true. You are here, wherever that is. So, if you are here, where am I? Here, supposedly. But then, I’m also somewhere else, somewhen else, writing this.
Are we here? As people, we have bodies and lives in space and time, but our bodies – fragile, real and temporary as they are – are nonetheless roped in by written language, which has different rules to flesh.
When I address ‘you’, I really do mean you, even though the word ‘you’ is an infinitely multiple being who is everywhere at all times forever; when I assert ‘I’, I assert myself, even though ‘I’ is also anyone else who says ‘I’ at any time forever. To even say ‘I’ is to imply you, who is not me and is listening. In other words, these names, these positions, may be empty ciphers but they can also contain us and relate us to one another.
For poetry, this is huge. Knowing the above, we have the opportunity to exploit this aspect of language to intense poetic effect. The fact that written language conjures up presence at the same time that it maintains absence is just wild. In poetry we can use this feature of language to create strange intimacies with our readers, to manage the distance between us and them, to align poet and reader in various ways and to articulate ourselves from supernatural positions in time and space, making a vast range of expression possible. Not only that, but by considering address, we can arrive at a nuanced understanding of what we think we’re doing when we write poetry, what we want to do, and what we can do. How, after all, do you want to be heard? Who, after all, do you want to hear you? This nuanced understanding of our potential is so important for developing our writing in our own individual ways.
In my upcoming online course, Address & the Strange Communication of Poetry, students will consider the nature of ‘you’ and ‘I’ in a theoretical way and do practical writing exercises that will introduce you to the poetic potential of address and how to use it. We’ll look at the effects of addressing subjects from different positions, in different ways, and what happens when we acknowledge and break through those strange interstices of time and space created by writing. We’ll also consider what it can mean to be the ‘I’ who addresses ‘you’ and how that meaning can be practically communicated in poetry, exploring who and what ‘you’ can be and thinking about where our poems can put us in relation to that ‘you’.
I like to think of poetry as this very material thing that exists and affects us in tangible ways, implicating and involving us as real people with bodies and lives. By instrumentalising address we can call upon that material aspect of our existence in our poems, we can create a kind of closeness and immediacy, we can close the gap between the one who reads and the one who writes, and we can create relationships between oursevles and others that are otherwise impossible. Through address, poetry can provide a means by which any one can meaningfully encounter any other in this material place called the world, and it can also provide a place to explore who we ourselves are or could be.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what you discover.
Ask who does a poem ‘speak’ to, and who (or what) is ‘speaking’ in, on Cat Woodward’s online course, Address and the Strange Communication of Poetry. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.