Writing Oneself into Existence

‘”Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.’–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland                                                       

First posed in 1865, this question has been the central preoccupation of twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers and poets–the central question of personal identity.

When we write, it goes without saying that we create something out of nothing. As artists or makers, we make something new and original each time we write. Although our poem may contain feelings, ideas, a story, a social comment or criticism, humor or satire, it is first and foremost our expressive writing on a topic. When readers encounter our poem, they not only form some response to the work as well as the voice, mask, or persona ‘speaking’, but also to the individual person responsible for its composition.

I believe we ‘write ourselves into existence’, into the awareness or consciousness of others, into our social context or times whenever we write. Each poem says something about who we are as people in process–our views, attitudes, values, character, and sensibilities. “I write, therefore I become.” (That is, when we write, we move from being to becoming, thereby expressing our unique personal identity.)

Quite apart from our desire to entertain and share thoughts, feelings, and perspectives with others, we also write to clarify ourselves–that is, our deepest most innermost selves to ourselves and to others–readers or an audience. In that sense, the creative writing of poetry can be seen as a means for answering the Caterpillar’s question, ‘the Big One’–as to who we really are. And in that process, we actualize our creative and expressive potential, simultaneously identifying and realizing ourselves each time, with each new poem.

“The goal of the [life or writing] journey is to discover yourself as consciousness.”
-Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion

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