A Letter from Perihelion's Editor

The self in poetry has gotten a bad rap. Getting away from all those excruciatingly dull “I” poems whose only claim for our attention is “It really happened that way!” created a trend in poetry away from I and towards—what? Sometimes, “you” sometimes, “they or he or we or it” but mostly towards an oddly disembodied “I” in the poem, one that, at times, seemed insane and boring at the same time:1

Hello I’m Jack Jerk
I live with Molly Ringwald in a hutch
the streets outside the Barleycorn Stretch
they burst it all slims down to a point
a golden gingerale of rockhewn source
buy Gortex it helps your cusp..

Clark Coolidge, from Traced Red Dot

or towards no “I” at all, or even subject matter. Just a quick patter of elf-slippered feet over grass, a puff of worn-out words, a will o’ the wisp and a tip o’ the cap to a lass named Jorie:


       of light,

          confusion of greens


      shadows of windless


moving over

            the waters.

Diane Di Prima, from Midsummer

Or, worse, the I-punish-you poem, sometimes called a prose poem, wherein we are forced into a chair, tied up and made to listen to someone droning without any relief from the language, as if to say, you want an “I”? I’ll give you an “I”! and you’ll get no metaphors, music or interesting images until you admit this is a poem.

Winnie, I am writing this on behalf of my friend Harris. He loves you
and wants you to love him. I have never been to Paris, but I have heard that it is a good place to be in love in.

Sarah Manguso, from Address to Winnie in Paris

Without the I there is no point of view, only words and their disparate scatter across a page. Without the I there is no story, only a private, free-associative frame into which we may or may not be invited by the poet. But most importantly, without the I there is no “eye”, no see-er behind the scenes, no directing intelligence or shaper of the poem.

At Perihelion we like to be in the presence of a poem, to meet its eye—not that of the poet, but that of the poet’s created self, and the language that self uses to engage us.

In this issue, you’ll find no boring journal-entries, fractured robot-language, or pretty words scattered like so many petals on a page. Instead, you’ll find the unafraid, joyful, creation of an “I” -- and an eye. Take a look.

1 All examples are from The Best American Poetry, 2002.

Joan Houlihan