Friday, July 27, 2012

Addressing a "You": Part 2, Imaginative Address

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The second kind of “you” I’ll call the “you” of imaginative address. It is spoken only in imagination to another person. One famous example of this is Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy”:

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

The poet is looking at a photo of her father (“You stand at the blackboard, daddy,/in the picture I have of you”), not speaking to him personally—“I was ten when they buried you”. The “you” addressed in the imagination is aimed at a specific person, but spoken only in theory to that individual.

Plath’s poem shows the incredible dynamism of the “you” of imaginative address. The poet speaks her mind about her father, uncensored by the need to show the poem to the person addressed. She can be as brutally honest as she likes. Diplomacy be damned, she tells it like it is.

Many political poems are also spoken to a “you” of imaginative address, such as Anna Akhmatova’s “Imitation from the Armenian.” which she wrote in a sort of code, but the poem was clearly a challenge to the Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, who sent her son away to Siberian forced labor camps for seventeen years:

…was my little son
To your taste, was he fat enough?

(translated by D.M. Thomas)

If you write mostly to a “you” of imaginative address, it might be a worthwhile exercise to try writing to a “you” of personal address, where you actually give the writing to the other person. The content might be more cautious, but it also might be more probing, since you are actually communicating, not just venting.

Also try the reverse. If you usually write to a “you” of personal address, change it up. Write a secret poem or prose piece to that “you” that you would never show that person. It might bring to light emotions or ideas that you otherwise would never express.

More on writing to a "you" in the next blog.

Part 1 of Addressing a "You": Personal Address
Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

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