|Donald Hall, a former poet laureate of the USA, who passed away on June 23, 2018, once said, “Literature starts by being personal, but the deeper we go inside the more we become everybody.”
What are your thoughts on the quote?
I think this is a simplistic view of the matter. Depending on the piece of literature and the reader and the writer and the mood of the day and what has been going on in everyone’s life, sometimes we start with the personal and go to a more general, but sometimes we start by seeing the universal and digging deeper into the personal. And sometimes literature takes up out of either and into story so that we live the story instead of creeping into the philosophical.
Perhaps that’s my own prejudices showing. I tend to read fiction more than poetry, although I enjoy it at times. I read fiction for story, not to learn more about myself or other people. When I read poetry it’s for the personal or the song of it or because it has said something right. And sometimes that starts inside and moves to the universal, and sometimes the more I read it, the more personal it gets, and sometimes it’s just beautiful and it flows through me without pausing and making me think of my life or of everybody.
In other words, I feel limited by this statement. Maybe it’s true sometimes. In fact, I know it’s true sometimes. But I react to literature in various ways, and I like it that way.