I’s and You’s (and Why’s): How Pronouns Function in Lyric Poems

Our idea of the lyric poem developed out of song, and that means having a singer. The contemporary lyric in English is predicated on certain assumptions about who speaks, and/or that the poem will present the experience of a unitary sensibility. But what are we really expecting from the “I” in a poem? When do we identify the speaker with the poet (for better or for worse)? And how can we consider the I and you in a poem not just as imagined persons, but as useful elements of craft?

In this craft lab, we’ll explore a range of contemporary poems—by Jorie Graham, Harryette Mullen, Dorothea Lasky, Dawn Lundy Martin, Emily Skillings and more—to better understand how the idea of a speaker works and how we bring our own sense of the interpersonal world to the page as we read. We’ll observe our tendency to read a poem based on the I-you relationship it suggests, or through our attraction to autobiographical detail. And by writing poems that test these assumptions, we’ll question whether the pronouns that populate the page are as real as we think they are.

All participants will have access to a cloud recording of the craft lab for one month afterward.

Craft Lab Details


Jay Deshpande

Jay Deshpande is the author of Love the Stranger (YesYes Books, 2015), named one of the top debuts of 2015 by Poets & Writers, and the chapbooks The Rest of the Body (YesYes Books, 2017) and The Umbrian Sonnets (PANK Books, 2020). A 2018–20 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the winner of the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award and Narrative‘s Annual Poetry Contest, he has also received fellowships from Kundiman, Civitella Ranieri, and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry ReviewNew Republic and New England Review, among many other places. He is an advisory editor for Northwest Review and writes criticism for GuernicaPleiadesKenyon Review and Boston Review. He holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and has taught workshops for Poets House, the Academy of American Poets and Columbia’s MFA program. Deshpande started teaching for Brooklyn Poets in 2017, quickly becoming one of our most popular teachers and selling out all of his workshops and mentorship courses since that time.