Though it originally referred to verse that was accompanied by a lyre or other musical instrument, the term ‘lyric’ now denotes poetry that expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet (or their persona) at a particular moment in time. From the Romantic era onwards, the lyric has been seen as the ideal vehicle for examining the nature of conscious experience and ideas about the self, and its pre-eminence has meant that we sometimes forget it is just one poetic genre amongst others, and see it as more or less synonymous with poetry itself.
Consequently, poetry, more than any other literary form, tends to be seen as ‘self-expression’. But what exactly are we expressing when we express our ‘selves’? Naturally, we all assume that we have a ‘self’ and that our self is what makes us what we are. But what if there were no self – if the self were just a kind of illusion or a notion that we have invented to make sense of an otherwise bewildering and incoherent mass of impressions? How might this affect the theory and practice of poetry? What happens when we take the ‘I’ out of lyric? Continue reading