Finding the Theme

First books of poetry are generally a miscellany. There are the poems for one’s parents, the love and sex poems, the first person narratives, the gestures at style and quirkiness.

In recent years, more and more poetry books have appeared built around a theme or obsession–a lynching in Indiana, say, or the 76 definitions of the word "fall," the death of a sibling, a harrowing divorce. Poets with first books want to be fashionable too. The problem is, our poems were not often composed with a theme in mind at all, but were each conceived in a vacuum, as though no Famous_2
other poems ever existed. They may have been written over a comparatively long period (ten years in my case) with sometimes conflicting motives and ever-evolving taste and skill. Can a consistent voice be found, let alone a hidden theme?

One of the great joys of putting Famous together was the discovery of a theme that seemed to run through this miscellany of poems about family, encounters with art, a housebound world, a restless nature. There seemed to be someone inside these poems that wanted to know how she fit in, how she could make herself matter. This wasn’t easy to tease out; in fact I botched my search several times before I think I found the right "answer." But the payoff was enormous—there I was, ten years of my life laid out in front of me, and I could make it make sense.