Photograph Andy Bullock


What is self & how do I write it?


Colossal, tumescent questions hanging & waiting to drop. In their falling the splattered matter of their existence is what poetry picks up (poetry that I like to read & write anyway.) The splattered matter of self.


What do I mean by this word self, which often gets kicked around like a football on a tired pitch. One dictionary definition writes this:


self: A person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.


I extract part of that sentence: ‘An essential being’ – is that soul? I ask (myself)


The concept of self dates back to Plato, Aristotle, Kant & René Descartes, who in his book Meditations on the First Philosophy explores the dualism & materialism of body & mind, the distinction between body &mind: a material body & a non-material mind make up the human being. Self is often paired with soul (the essential being). The American poet Alice Notley, in her collection, Mysteries of Small Houses has written a poem called House of Self, in which in her own words (in an interview with me via email) she says, “the poem House of Self is about what the soul is.”


“This neutrality of being is hard to describe” (Notley: 1998: 2)


Colossal, tumescent statements, sentences, words waiting to be unpicked. Are we wanting to write about soul then? Or something Other?


Face to Face with Otherness? In her book, ‘Rootprints, Memory and Life Writing’ Hélène Cixous writes beautifully on otherness in relation to the I.


“The other in all his or her forms gives me I. It is on the occasion of the other that I catch sight of me, or that I catch me at: reacting, choosing, refusing, accepting. It is the other that makes my portrait.” (Cixous: 1997: 13)


I extract “The other that makes my portrait.”  I like this.


So with this in mind, I want to create/build/explore/dismantle writing & poems that somehow speak to “the other that makes my portrait” – that speak of a sense of I & other & self –the self that balances the autobiographical with the universal, the fictional with the factional, the memory with the hauntings, history with our perceptions of it, voice with silence.


I want to discover voice in poems, how do we give voice to the self?


Alice Notley asserts in House of Self:


I am

What I asked for

I am speaking

I speak like this


I want us to speak with confidence in our writing as we write our poems, as we get inspired. Speak of experience, risk being disliked, write towards the vulnerability that Anne Lamott discuses in Bird by Bird, “Tell the truth as you understand it.”


So with this in mind, I have been reading poems by Louise Glück, Carolyn Forché, Paul Celan, Marie Howe, Maggie Nelson, Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Sharon Olds, Jacques Dupin to name but a few, which hold vulnerability in their language & narrative, in their giving.


Anne Lamott says that you have to give or there’s no reason for you to be writing. “You have to give from the deepest part of yourself and you are going to have to go on giving…” (Lamott: 1994: 203)


On the course you will receive time & guidance as you give your self to your writing.


As I write this, there are many selves at play – 6.00 am on a Thursday in late February. I catch myself uncovering small details of yesterdays attentions & memories, already beginning to disappear. I can hear the dog downstairs slumped against the kitchen door, a duvet succumbing to the morning’s frosted slant, small feet entering the bedroom, asking if mummy is awake? I want to catch this.


On this course you will catch yourself in similar & different moments, offering yourself as the opportunity to write the ‘unexpected.’

5 fortnightly sessions over 10 weeks. No live chats. Suitable for UK & International students.



Cixous, Hélène & Calle-Gruber Mireille, Rootprints, Memory and Life Writing, Routledge, London and New York, 1997

Descartes Rene, (trans) Donald A. Cress, Meditations on the First Philosophy, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1993

Lamott Anne, Bird by Bird, Anchor Books, New York, 1994

Notley Alice, Mysteries of Small Houses, Penguin Books, USA, 1998