This post is the second in a series from Drunken Boat‘s 2014 Pushcart Prize nominees.
I wrote “I, Let” toward the end of a seven-year sonnet writing spree, which culminated in my collection The Glass Age: Sonnets, which is currently making the rounds of contests and publishers. When I was drafting “I, Let,” I’d recently written hundreds of sonnets, invoking the form both strictly and loosely, and so with “I, Let” and other poems I wrote during this period, I was consciously trying to break the form, imposing other structures upon it and using over-rhyme and funky typography, indentation, and spacing to enhance a sense of things being blown open and apart.
One of the things that drew me to the sonnet is the English form’s drive toward finality with things taking surprising turns along the way before hitting the hard couplet, and this movement appears often in The Glass Age along with apocalyptic motifs: speeding faster and faster toward self-immolation, falling out of the bounds of constraint, which are both comforting and infuriating. Some of the other poems in the collection address our current moment in the exciting and terrifying 21st century, as we spin and spin in our industrious circles, the ever-widening gyre.
In retrospect, I think “I, Let” embraces the feeling of falling, the thrill and loneliness of just letting go, though I wasn’t conscious of those themes when I was composing the poem. In this writing and others, I tend to get at content sideways, letting the poem or story that wants to be born that day have its say.
Many of the poems in The Glass Age allude to old stories: myths, fairy tales, fables, and more recent characters like Alice in Wonderland who decided to make an appearance in this poem. Most of these tale-inspired poems focus on the female characters, imagining their thoughts and resources. Some poems like “A Parable” and “A Fable” evoke the structure and tenor of folk stories with their emphasis on cautionary lessons and tough irony.
“I, Let” is also part of a series within the collection in which every poem begins with, “I, _______” with each poem exploring the lyric as a vehicle for self—a self that turns out to be highly unstable, roving, multitudinous, and sometimes collective. The “we” often usurps the “I” in these poems and others in The Glass Age, the we’s concerns occupying a more urgent space than those of the I at the moment.
Anna Maria Hong is the Visiting Creative Writer at Ursinus College and was a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The recipient of Poetry magazine’s 2013 Frederick Bock Prize, she has stories and poems appearing in POOL, Boston Review, The Iowa Review, The Nation, Verse Daily, Bone Bouquet, The Volta, Green Mountains Review, Harvard Review, Unsplendid, Fence, Conduit, Best New Poets, and The Best American Poetry. She is the winner of the 2014 Clarissa Dalloway Prize from the A Room of Her Own Foundation for her novella H & G, which is forthcoming from Red Hen Press.
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