Reclaiming the “I”: Strategies and Ethics in Auto/Biography

Who is the “I” in our poems? Lucille Clifton has said that poetry is a way of living in the world, a way of trying to come to peace with it through the question of poetry. But who is asking those questions? Misunderstood and often diminished, the first-person perspective is not just a point of view; it’s a lens that transforms the knowledge with which we enter a poem into the wisdom with which we leave it. What are the I’s motivations? What can our poems become if we dare to prioritize those desires? In this craft lab we’ll explore the chasm between author and speaker in order to discover ways to topple the predictable, resist the flimsy and lead the line to its most surprising and liberated revelations. We’ll experiment and generate new work from prompts. Together we’ll read, discuss and ask questions of poems by Wanda Coleman, Krista Franklin, Yusef Komunyakaa, Jorie Graham, Ocean Vuong and Alan Shapiro, utilizing their work to get closer to the chameleon self of the poem, the elusive “I” and all its possibilities.

Craft Lab Details

Angel Nafis photo by Justin L. Wee
Angel Nafis is a Cave Canem Fellow and the author of BlackGirl Mansion (Red Beard Press, 2012). She earned her BA at Hunter College and her MFA in poetry at Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in the BreakBeat Poets Anthology, Buzzfeed Reader, the Rumpus, Poetry and more. She represented NYC at the National Poetry Slam and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. An Urban Word NYC mentor, and founder, curator and host of the Greenlight Poetry Salon, she is the recipient of a 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship and a 2017 NEA creative writing fellowship. She is half of the ODES FOR YOU TOUR with poet, musician and visual artist Shira Erlichman, and with poet Morgan Parker she runs the Other Black Girl Collective, an internationally touring Black Feminist poetry duo.