Q&A: Almost Nowhere in the World, as Far as Anyone Can Tell

Are we hearing an implied “Dick Allen” in this poem, or are these the thoughts of some other character? Does the distinction matter, in terms of how we think about the poem and its “philosophy” of the perhaps all-too-familiar restaurant?

As with almost all poets who write out of a persona rather than as a confessionalist or even primarily as a “personal” poet, the “I” in my poetry is meant to be a universal “I.” Still, use of the persona doesn’t mean that the poem’s author isn’t in the poem—just that it doesn’t have to be specifically him. In Robert Lowell’s later poetry, who else could it be but Lowell “tamed by Miltown”? To identify with the confessionalist poem, we must think of equivalent experiences in our own lives. We read first and compare later, rather than read and experience simultaneously with the “I.”

I hope the reader will find primarily “anyone,” maybe himself, in this poem, but I might myself be one of the many possibilities sitting there, too. The distinction matters, because if the reader thinks it’s just me there rather than himself or herself, he or she misses that identification with the poem’s speaker that’s so crucial to making the poem relevant to the reader’s own life.

In this specific poem, one of the things I’m hoping is felt by the reader is a slightly wry combination of self-pity and mildly ironic rationalization and acceptance. It’s a feeling that comes upon us all when we realize our own lack of self-importance, how large the world is and how small we are.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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