For Whose Eyes and Ears

February 20, 2021

This is a guest post
by Jed Myers

In the lore of therapy, it’s said a person’s emotional state will improve with keeping a journal. The benefit holds even if the journal entries are never shared with another soul. Does that mean we need only ever spell things out for ourselves alone? Or does it mean that the act of writing is so fundamentally relational, no actual other is needed for the experience of being heard and understood by another?

Words have evolved for the conveyance of one being’s experience to another. So even when we speak in our imaginations, talk to ourselves, or write our private entries, we are invoking the presence of another, however invisible.

I do wonder, for whose eyes do we place the words of our reflections on the page? In whose ears do we hope our written words will ring? And whose are the minds and hearts we want to stir with what we’ve written?

I’m sure there’s no simple or single answer to any such questions. But I’m also sure — from tuning in to my own process of writing, if by nothing else — that there is an envisioned other, or a collection of others, that we’ve got a representation of in the wings of the act of writing, to whom, in the writing, we’re speaking.

Maybe this goes against a kind of purist’s notion of writing only for oneself. I don’t know. It could be that an implicit other just like oneself, a mirror twin, so to speak, is such a purist’s other. The writing that would emerge in that spirit might be more idiosyncratic, harder for the rest of us to “get,” but it might be in its own way just right — the words chosen and arranged for the dear twin who will understand perfectly.

Then there’s the writing for a different other, or for a gathering (in the mind’s amphitheater) of others of varied sensibilities. Perhaps these are the presences some of us want to touch with our words. These imagined others might stand in for real expectable readers in the world. We can’t be sure how they’ll hear us, as we don’t know just how they think and feel. How will our poems ring with them?

That question’s at my shoulder while I work out my lines. It can serve to press me, word by word, closer to the marrow, where I’ll find more intuitive sureness of common feeling, even across cultures and times.

I like to invite one odd other to the gathering and to be sure that figure’s listening — a guest from some time in the future, when my life’s been over long enough that those who’ve remembered me are gone. I reach for what might make that other grateful to have stumbled onto my words. I’ll write what I need to say — as if in my journal — that will also close the rift of space and time, so that my guest might feel that a hundred years ago is more or less last week. That’s what I feel sometimes reading Sappho or Du Fu — the intimacy of distant solitudes.

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Jed Myers lives in Seattle, where, aside from writing, he’s a psychiatrist with a therapy practice and a Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Washington. He’s author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press), and four chapbooks, including Dark’s Channels (Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Award) and Love’s Test (winner, Grayson Books Chapbook Contest). Recognitions include Southern Indiana Review’s Editors’ Award, the Prime Number Magazine Award, The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Prize, and The Tishman Review’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize. Poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, Poetry Northwest, The American Journal of Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, multiple anthologies, including Two-Countries: US Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen Press) and Take a Stand: Art Against Hate (Raven Chronicles Press), and many other publications. Poems are forthcoming in New York Quarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, Cutthroat, Sequestrum, and Galleywinter Poetry Series. Two essays on poetry and medicine have appeared in JAMA. Jed is Poetry Editor for the journal Bracken.

Jed Myers will co-feature with Charles Rafferty in the Poets in Conversation reading series on Saturday, May 22, 2021, 4:00pm Pacific. Details and access information will be posted on this site and on The Poetry Department Calendar page.

Author photo by Alina Rios
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on poetry

June 24, 2018

“Never use the word ‘audience.’ The very idea of a public, unless the poet is writing for money, seems wrong to me. Poets don’t have an ‘audience’: They’re talking to a single person all the time.”
Robert Graves
(July 24, 1895 – December 7, 1985)

. . . . .
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on poetry

April 30, 2016

Annie Dillard
“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
Annie Dillard
(b. April 30, 1945)
. . . . .
photo by Phyllis Rose
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