How To Become An “I”

Poetry has always been something I never had a passion for, but I always believed that I had a good understanding of many types of poetry and how they operate. I knew about haikus and how they are Japanese and utilize the syllables of the words to create their structure. I was aware that sonnets generally dealt with a lover and an absent beloved along with being fourteen lines. I knew most songs derive from poetry. And I saw how poems expressed themselves through imagery and emotion. This culmination of information gave me the belief that I clearly understood lyric poetry- the time we most often associate with “poetry” when referenced by itself.

Well, this is how much I actually knew about lyric poetry: nothing.

I really should not be surprised by this because I do not read poetry nor write it in my free time, and I have no desire to. I definitely respect it and appreciate how it has given joy and passion to people. I have this friend who writes at least five poems a day. Some are short, but many are surprisingly long. He told me he just writes them because it is a way for him to be open almost like a journal, but poetry is viewed as more artistic. He told me he enjoys how free it is; how it does not have a set structure, and yet it can still be classified as something that people can be in awe of. Most importantly, he emphasized how cool it was to be personal and put focus on himself.

These opinions he has had come across my head as thought at some point and are the reasons why I respected poetry. These beliefs that poetry had no really strict rules and that it focuses on one thing, typically the “author,” gave me reason to believe that poetry was the way to go if one must write literature, and that poetry is the literature for personal. That is, it provides the writer with the ability to put themselves in the forefront and not worry about providing details about other things nor have to make several interconnections between people and things in the way that novels must. These things were concrete to me… until I read On Lyric Poetry and Society by Theodor Adorno. Adorno challenges each of these characteristics I assigned to poetry. Adorno does agree that lyric poetry is concerned with the dream of free self-expression: having the ability to communicate in deeply personal, individualized, non-conformist ways. But, Adorno holds that the history of lyric poetry is the history of individuality in crisis, and that, that history has become the history of a frustrated desire for realized humanity. He calls to question how one can rejoin the world they are fleeing.

This question derives from the question of how a poem establishes its lyric “I”- the poetic “me?” How can one distinguish a general “I” to a specified “I?” When the poet uses “I” in their poetry, how do we determine to what that “I” refers? Is it that you simply identify the “I” by itself? But, how can you focus on that one subject without the calling to attention the secondary-things around the first. Adorno’s argument is that you cannot. There is a special relationship that needs to exist between the lyric I and the other things involved. Even though poetry is categorized differently than a novel, it still relies upon the connection between other things. In order for the poetic me to be, there needs to be something for it to oppose, something that the me is fleeing. Thus, lyric poetry which is seemingly individualized, is very much collective and more social than believed to be.

The “I” then is not as self-oriented as originally perceived. This ties into Adorno’s central argument: all language is social and deindividualized. What made me realize I knew even less about poetry than I thought, was that nobody is really creative. This theory popped into my head several times in my life, but it was always very general in the sense that there is no proof that what someone says or does is actually original and was never thought of or done before. Adorno states that since the “I” is often underelaborated (it’s not specified nor contextualized much), it leaves poetry very open, accessible, and makes it social. This, in turn, makes poetry a language with more rules. For example, when you write a haiku, you are writing in a manner that thousands have attempted before. In this way, too, your language is social and shared. Even when writing peculiar or in a way that does not attempt to make sense in the usual fashion, poets are not achieving their individuality, because they are handing themselves over to language.

Poetry has something to do with our capacity to ignore norms themselves; It is a vehicle of nonconformity. In “Re-Reading ‘Impossibility’ and ‘Barbarism’: Adorno and Post-Holocaust Poetics,” Anthony Rowland asserts that although Adorno calls post-Holocaust poetry “barbaric,” Adorno is not arguing that “poems are unrestrained, uncultured or rough in subject matter,” but instead that Adorno is trying to describe a different type of poetry that writes in a way that does not attempt to make sense in a usual fashion. Rowland, then, calls to question how can Adorno argue that poetry is barbaric, but it is “impossible to write poetry.” The answer is that while poetry is very free and autonomous, poetry has many rules. As poetry strives to find fresh language, convention evolves with it, and rules are then created for such “freeness.” Poetry and convention are then essentially in an evolutionary arms race. As stated, poetry is in a constant search for fresh language. That is, poets have no tolerance for cliché. Poets will often try to find a novel way to do something or phrase something, especially if it is something that could have potentially been stated before. There is just so much history, that poems almost cannot avoid convention, but humans (because they can get very good at things) continue to find new ways to be innovative and go outside the bounds of convention. This causes convention to then evolve in response to the “freshness” of poetry, and thus a cycle is created. As poetry develops new ways to become “creative,” convention also evolves to create rules to limit poetry. This is one of the things I was the most shocked by based on my held belief that poetry was so free and boundless.

To further confuse me, I came to understand that in order for “I” to be “I” it has to set itself apart from another-term. If we look at the poem, I, too, sing America by Langston Hughes we can see how a poem- that’s central focus is the “I’- relies on another to distinguish itself.

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
Langston Hughes

This can be blatantly observed by looking at how the first verse, “I am the darker brother,” essentially means nothing because it provides the reader with nothing to compare that “I” to, nor does it provide context to further identify the speaker. It is only through the second verse, “They send me to eat in the kitchen,” that the “I” becomes an “I.” Before setting itself apart from the “they” (which granted still is not very specific), the author despite his attempt to place himself into his poem gave us nothing and in fact left more questions than answers. Even though his use of “they,” “nobody,” and even the quotation marks themselves do not seem as prevalent or valuable as the “I” and one “me” in the poem, without them, the lyric “I” and the poetic “me” could not exist. Additionally, calling to mind the title itself, “I, too, sing America,” the simple word too adds that extra layer. By the addition of that word, the “I” immediately gets set apart because the “too” implies that there is another person or group that has sung America. Whether or not he wants to join with them to be apart of a chorus or be independent and sing his own refrain is a different story. But, nonetheless, the inclusion of the “too” adds a lot more to the formation of the poetic “me” Langston Hughes is attempting to create.

This poem, indeed, follows the conventions of the poetry we typically think of, but I ask you to think of a poem- any type of poem- where the main subject is actually alone; isolated from everything else with no connections or rejections to set it apart. In fact, try to think of anything like a novel or a fruit or even a person. How can you distinguish one from another without calling attention to the other subject and giving information about what it is or is not. Novels (which are all about connections and are the literature of relationships) do a great job of this. Novels tend to define what they are not and will often bring in other forms of literature to set themselves apart. Poems and the “I” are no different. They are dependent upon the existence of something else in order to gain more specificity and identity. In Mutlu Konuk Blasing’s “The Lyric Subject” within Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words, she states that “IMPLICITLY OR explicitly, the speaker in a lyric poem is an “I…” The “I” in discourse is a universal, an indexical function,” meaning that this “I” is very general and encompasses all, however she also holds that “the poetic “I” is also heard as an individuated voice.” She further states, “The generic “I” and the individuated “I” cannot to be understood as oppositional: The “I” in poetry is both the generic “I” of language and an individuated “I.”” This subject which is the discourse shows how poetry foregrounds convention. Thus, “formal devices and conventions,” regulate the material “body.” According to her, “conventions that stylize the rules of a language represent the body, and in the lyric there is an excess of “body.”” Additionally, Blasing supports that the Lyric “I” cannot be alone. She writes, “the lyric “I” must also always be a “you…” the “I” is utterly dependent on an audience.” This further expands on the point that the poetic “me” must have something in addition to itself. Therefore, the “I” that is centralized within poetry of all categories, needs the presence of another subject in order for it to become a non-general “I” that attaches itself to the author, and not everyone.

Here is what I have learned about poetry: poetry is both one of the most free types of literature, but still bounded by conventions that continue to develop in order to keep up with the “newness” that poets bring with time. And, poetry is not very individualized; It is very social and decentralized. The “I (or the subject upon which is being focused)” that is referenced and at the heart of the poem has to have something to oppose; something to use to distinguish itself. Looking back, I think had made these realizations before, but set them aside because I never had much backing. I realize this is can be very harmful to state in a work I just gave credit to others for the things I learned. But, then again, I did not know much about the subject before and there is no proof that I know anymore now. I am simply on human living in a period encompassed by technology, and the next generation will likely be so engulfed by advancements that these statements about poetry may very well become inconsequential. I mean, how significant are “cavedrawings” and hieroglyphics to the youth now. Think about it, its only a matter of time before poetry becomes outdated.

An earlier draft of this essay was read by Anna Kim

I have written this essay in the style of Chuck Klosterman.
Works Cited
Adorno, Theodor W. “On Lyric Poetry and Society.” Notes To Literature 1 (1991): 37-54. Columbia University Press. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Blasing, Mutlu Konuk. “THE LYRIC SUBJECT.” Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words, Princeton University Press, 2007, pp. 27–44,

ROWLAND, ANTONY. “Re-Reading ‘Impossibility’ and ‘Barbarism’: Adorno and Post- Holocaust Poetics.” Critical Survey, vol. 9, no. 1, 1997, pp. 57–69. 41556053.

The Interpretation We Should Value

Authors can often get too much credit for the their work. It is just very easy to praise the author because they wrote it the text and to credit the author with the ownership of a powerful meaning of a work. This is not appropriate because the author is unable to express every possible meaning and they are not the only person reading their work. Similarly, the text itself can gain praise for what it is- the words written- and the meanings that the words can create. In order for the text to rightly deserve credit for the meaning which it conveys, the text must be able to “stand on its own.” The text must be able to express its meaning without the author being present [to explain its meaning]. Thus, the text needs to be autonomous from the author; it must be able to give meaning without the assistance of another source. Therefore, it is the readers and neither the text nor the author who determines the meaning of a work. The readers have their own unique background and are capable of better getting messages across and elaborating on interpretations than the author and the text. What really sets the readers apart from the author and the text is that they have a fresh set of eyes that have not experienced the same things as the author. They have a different perspective from the author and this is vital to the value of their interpretation because it allows them to read the text with no prior history with the text, and thus they would only be able to read the text as it is written. Furthermore, the readers are the persons through whom the meaning of the work can be explained when the author is no longer present and the text is lost or indecipherable by itself.

The Bible is a great example of how valuable the readers are. The authors of the Bible are no longer present, so it is impossible to truly know what they meant. Secondly, we cannot even confirm whether or not they wrote the Bible. Additionally, the text itself can be very hard to fully understand. It is then on the readers to determine how important the text is to the meaning it is trying to get across. The readers also choose how to apply the meaning they gather from the work. Thus, readers hold a lot of the power to dictate which interpretation to take away from the work making their interpretations matter the most. The readers are the ones who preserve the meanings of the work and more readily and efficiently disseminate their interpretations to the masses. The readers, then, give meaning to the Bible; without the readers the Bible has no meaning.

Throughout history, many groups and individuals have taken up the Bible as a text from which they can learn about life and how one should live. However, interpretations of the Bible have varied, causing many disputes even amongst people of the same faith. One cause for this is the fact that the Bible is an incredibly hard text to read. Disregarding the length of the sacred text, the wording of the book is much different than that of modern-day books as a result of developments in language made over long periods of time. Many passages can be very abstract and difficult for one to wrap their heads around. Because the text can be indecipherable at times, readers end up being responsible for creating meaning from it and make it relevant to their lives, their reality, their world. After all, the readers are the individuals who are actively engaging in the world in which they live, and it is they who will determine the future, and for that reason they need to have priority in the “interpretation hierarchy” because they affect the things that will come. For when the Bible is decipherable, it is still up to the readers to give meaning to the text and ponder what they read in order for them to make sense of it.

Humans are unique beings: they have different backgrounds, mindsets, and experiences. Due to this, people are going to have different opinions and interpret things in a variety of ways. This allows for readers to have several meanings for even one phrase, let alone an entire book. Even groups that consist of individuals with very similar beliefs struggle to come up with one clear interpretation. This is partly because humans can be stubborn, but also because it is very difficult to have a group of people in which every member interprets things the exact same way. The text, in contrast, is unable to debate that which is written. Sure, some words have multiple meanings, but it is ultimately the readers who choose which meaning of a word or phrase to take and interpret. The text is an inanimate thing that cannot, on its own, argue for a certain meaning. According to E. D. Hirsch, the text is dependent on the readers for its meaning, and in terms of the author and their intent having significance, the critics as he mentions are the readers and the second an interpretation is made on the work, the author is removed from the work. As for the author, they are likely to have multiple ideas pass through their head, possibly causing them to lose track of their intent. This makes it extremely difficult and even impossible for the reader to even try to figure out the point or argument of the work.

My argument is not that the author or the text has no value, but that in terms of caring about the meaning of a work, neither the authorial intent nor the text has any greater significance than the reader’s equally viable interpretation. An undisputable fact about the Bible is that the authors are no longer alive or able to directly communicate their intent. But, even if they were, their intent does not matter. If there is no confirmed authorial intent, why bother looking for it or giving it attention? The text, by itself, is incapable of having an intent. Furthermore, the text can be read as straightforward or as cryptic, but again it is the readers who achieve those readings. Therefore, readers have the authority and ultimately the final say in assigning meaning to any work because they determine how the text affects them.

There are also just too many ways to interpret the Bible. Aside from each individual’s interpretation, nearly every sect of Christianity (and a few denominations of other religions), has different ways of interpreting the Bible. Examples of biblical interpretations include: interpreting passages as “the Word of God,” as a historical document, as midrash, or as folklore. To interpret the Bible as “the Word of God” is to interpret the passages as they are written because that which is written is exactly the words of God that were simply transcribed through his messengers. According to the source “Methods of Interpreting the Meaning of Bible Passages,” to interpret the Bible as a historical document is to believe that human beings wrote the contents of the Bible without the voice of God, and they did so for their own personal purposes. In addition, the authors made errors both in writing the work and in rewriting the contents with each new edition and the evolution of language. I am not in total agreement with this definition of reading the Bible as a historical document, but it still provides an additional way of interpreting the Bible. To interpret the Bible as midrash is to focus on the experience(s) of the past that allow a praiseworthy event to occur in the present. To interpret the Bible as the result of years of oral tradition is to say that the stories told within the Bible have been repeated and altered even if only slightly. Each of these examples proves how vital the reader is to the meaning of a work. For each interpretation can only be held by the reader who chooses their own way of reading. H. J. B. Combrink agrees and asserts that a text, especially the Bible, is very open to multiple interpretations, and that interpretation and application should not be separated from one another. This further supports the claim of the readers’ interpretations mattering the most because they will have various interpretations, but also the readers are the ones applying the interpretations to the world around them.

A specific example of how even a Biblical verse relies on the readers is the verse  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).” This is a verse that is very popular and utilized quite often because it can be interpreted to provide false hope to the world in exchange for something so few actually have: faith in God. Popular belief holds that this verse states that it is possible to succeed and thrive simply by having faith in God. However, it can also mean that “ in Christ we find the sufficient comfort and support to carry on through all adversity,” and not that anything is possible and everything will turn out for the best because one has trust in God. Additionally, a reader could interpret this verse as a reason to live poorly, perform badly academically or career-wise, break the law, or become depressed, due to the “loose-phrasing” of the text and the ability of the reader to interpret things in various ways. The text is not specific enough, and even if it were more specific, it is incapable of being so specific that only one meaning can be drawn from it: that is one inevitable truth about literature. Therefore, looking at this one verse out of the approximately thirty-one thousand verses, it is apparent how the author(s) holds no authority in assigning meaning. It also shows how the text inadequately gets a message across uniformly. The text is just not able to provide a definite and universal meaning that will mean the same thing to everyone. Most importantly, this example shows how the reader grants meaning to the verse by assigning their own meaning to something in order for it to make sense and function in their world.

The readers must be the factor that determines the meaning of a poem, novel, play, or movie. The author can get lost in their work or in their own head and lose meaning. The thoughts circling around in the author’s head compounded with even a quick break of concentration can cause the author to lose track of their intended meaning. Above all, the author cannot exist forever; they cannot constantly be available to somehow adjust readers’ interpretations to fit their intentions. The text, which can potentially exist forever, lacks the ability to communicate a message in multiple ways to assist with conveying the message. Readers also possess the ability to alter their reading of the text to forgo its original, intended meaning for a new, readerly-imposed meaning. So long as humans (or intelligence) exist, readers shall exist. Thus, the readers undeniably determine the meaning of a poem, novel, play or movie; they have the most valuable interpretation.

Works Cited

“1 Peter and Theological Interpretation of Scripture.”

Written to Serve : The Use of Scripture in 1 Peter (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. <>.

“5 Reasons Why There Are So Many Interpretations of the Bible | by Karl Heitman.”

Glory Books. N.p., 05 May 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.


Combrink, H. J. B. “Multiple Meaning and/or Multiple Interpretation of a Text.”

Neotestamentica, vol. 18, 1984, pp. 26–37.

HIRSCH, E. D., and GARY ISEMINGER. “In Defense of the Author.” Intention Interpretation,

Temple University Press, 1992, pp. 11–23,

Lorand, Ruth. “The Logic of Interpretation.” Interpretation: Ways of Thinking about the Sciences

and the Arts, Edited by Peter Machamer and Gereon Wolters, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014, pp. 16–30,

“Methods of Interpreting the Meaning of Bible Passages.”

Methods of Interpreting the Bible. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.


Rosenblatt, Louise M. “Readers, Texts, Authors.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society,

vol. 34, no. 4, 1998, pp. 885–921.

“Top 5 Most Misquoted, Misused, and Misunderstood Bible Verses – Truth By Grace.”

Truth By Grace. N.p., 22 June 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. <>.

Philosophy For The Many

If I wrote a poem (or any typically short piece of literature) and a scholarly essay (or any generally long work), which of the two are you more likely to pick up and read? If you are like me, the answer would be “neither,” but in a situation in which you are forced to choose, my best guess is that you would pick up the piece of literature that requires the least amount of effort. I mean, honestly, the only people who genuinely pick up excessively long pieces of literature are professors and older people who actually have the time to read them. Everyone else is either forced to read them or kidding themselves; they believe they have a true desire and passion for the art, but do not yet understand literature and simply want to come across as intellectual.
Sure, in order to get better and understand literature people must read more and harder material, however poems, plays, short novels/stories, and other seemingly simple forms of literature can be and are just as hard to understand as philosophical and scholarly writing.
A poem is (to many) a basic way to express themselves in their own creative way. A poem, however also entails more than that. A poem can utilize metaphors, rhyme, heightened language, slang, sounds, and improper grammar. Although a few of these things seem to go against a claim that poems can be difficult to interpret, these characteristics allow poems to convey the true feelings of the writer and make the piece of literature that much harder to understand. Poems are so valuable and enlightening because they are open to multiple interpretations. You may look at a poem, read it, and gather something completely different than what I gather from the poem. The most radical part about this is that the poem in question can be of any length and with whatever level of language it wants. If I were to say something that would appear to have one meaning like, “I looked at him, and I rolled on Friday.” One may think I am plainly talking about the act of physically rolling on that day. Another person may be very keen and know that Friday may very well be the name of a given object or animal (or person). Someone else can very well believe that I am crazy and said something random and irrelevant. From just one nine-word sentence three hypothetical people interpreted the same line in three different ways, and I, the author, never said or confirmed any of the three as being “correct”. All three interpretations are valid, but none refer to what I originally meant when I said that line. The truth is that I was referring to “rolling my eyes.”
Now, in this case I partially cheated because I took advantage of the fact I was speaking and “eye” is identical in sound as “I,” but had I not used that “loophole” there was still more than one way to interpret that line. Plus, I never added what many poems have as well: deeper meanings. These “inside joke” type of things add an extra layer of complexity that places another hurdle for the audience to jump over after they take what they read for face-value, that is the literal meaning.
In case you still do not believe that poems and other brief forms of literature are not the philosophy for the many, but instead are equally and sometimes harder pieces of literature, ponder this question, “would you rather have a final that is ten words or ten pages?” Intuitively, you might jump to have a final that is only ten words, but after contemplation, you would realize that ten words in not so easy and no longer more appealing than that ten-page paper. I’m willing to bet that even if I raised the number of pages to twenty, you would still prefer the twenty-page final. In fact, many of you would continue to take the pages option over the word option until the word option reached a page. The realization with this comes from the understanding that with length, comes a much easier and more accepted way to babble, or to be frank, bullshit. With proper care, or even without care, people can bullshit their way through a paragraph or even a page of that ten-page paper without being caught or penalized. But, with ten-words, every single word better count; it better mean something. Otherwise, it will be seen as garbage and you will be made a fool of.

This is the thing many fail to realize early on: Brevity does not equal effortlessness, nor means that it is self-explanatory. Many individuals and even classes spend hours if not days trying to comprehend a poem. The words on the paper (or nowadays screen) may be simple, but the purpose can be just as profound as the words are simple. Take for example a poem and a poet that many people know or have at least heard of, Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” The poem is eight lines, and yet several sources have pages full of analysis for the poem. this ranges from every word to the sentence to the poem itself. There are various levels to the complexity of this seemingly simple poem. In case you are unfamiliar with the poem or need a refresher here is a common version of Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

As you can see, all of these words are intelligible. Some publications have different punctuation, and some say ‘June’ instead of ‘day’ and ‘ones’ instead of ‘your.’ Nonetheless, all the words are easy to pronounce and the vocabulary is fairly basic. However, the poem is not as easily digestible. Similar to the example i provided early on, there is a basic interpretation which takes the words for what they tend to mean on a day-to-day basis. This interpretation believes that she is talking about herself, either in the mirror or not, but talking about herself being a nobody nonetheless. And that keen person might say she is stating her name (nobody) and is incredibly glad she ran into another person with such a unique name. additionally, that last person can claim the same as before, the words are nonsense and inconsequential, and Dickinson may just be crazy. Now, going off of the more rational beliefs, Dickinson may very well have drawn inspiration for this poem from inflection and her insecurities, but the meaning drawn from the poem after examination is that Dickinson is glorifying anonymity. The most significant thing about these ”understandings” is that there is no way of confirming that these “understandings” are even true understandings or whether they are misinterpretations.
I know that when I first read this poem, I did not know what to think. I was not sure if I had the right idea, if I was all over the place, if she was all over the place, or if it was never meant to be understood. All of these thoughts still entered my head, even though I had just gone through a month of analyzing other poets and other short forms of literature. I spent weeks learning techniques and conditioning my brain to think a certain way (sometimes this meant not thinking a all), and yet, even after all the practice and note-taking, the comprehensibility of the poem was still challenging for myself and my peers. The poem is only eight lines. It rhymes. It expresses emotion. But still, the meaning is ambiguous. Now, imagine if she had decided to write a novel or a philosophical piece about the benefits of not being known and the dullness of being famous. I’m almost positive that more people would understand what she is discussing and in a shorter period of time. After-all, Dickinson would have an enormous range that she could take advantage of. Whether the work was one page or one hundred pages the concept would still be easier to grasp than that hidden within the forty-three words of the poem.

If you still do not accept the fact that poems and other short forms of literature are not philosophy for the many, think about one of the -if not the-most essential qualities necessary for understanding literature: being literate. In order to even read, let alone judge and try to process literature, you need to be literate. If you cannot understand any words visually, then poetry cannot be accessible to you for the same reasons many feel philosophical and scholarly writing is not accessible: it’s too hard and unreadable. Well, after reading through something I am sure you did not intend on reading through to the end, it is impossible to question if poetry can be just as inaccessible to the many as philosophical and scholarly writing.

In conclusion, there is no way to refute the claim that individuals can still reach a higher level of understanding through poetry and other pieces of literature, even though they are short and simple. Honestly, there is no reason as to why you waste time denying a truth and spent time reading this redundant essay proving how inaccessible poetry can be and at the same time showing how accessible scholarly writing can be. I mean you just read this and I am sure you understand well enough to provide the gist of it to a friend without worry of being wrong. So, stop thinking about where you can try to find holes in my argument: there are other questions to think about.