Who do you write for?

I’ve been working on a poem for a friend, and I have to get it right. Would that I felt such tenacity, such determination, with every poem. I should. And I’m moving in that direction, slowing way down.

A poem for an audience of one has a special life. It might not get read by many people, but it will be ready by that most important reader. I’m not talking about occasional poems, where you read to those gathered before the cake is served. But something spontaneous–you see something, hear something, and think of that person even as you feel the “aha” in your lungs. Just as Into the Rumored Spring started with a moth fanned across a window pane.

Each fall, I write a poem for another friend–it’s become an annual ritual, and I might have to wait, patiently or not, for that image to cross my path, for that spark to fire. But I know who my most important reader is–my friend–and so I know who the “you” is.

I think every poem has a “you” even if it’s yourself. Or even if it’s everyone in the country. I’m thinking of Whitman here, and I’m thinking it’s probably harder to talk to everyone than it is to write to someone–but Whitman was vast and contained multitudes.

I also return to Lynda Hull’s work. Her poems often speak to specific people, they make a conversation. For example,  Suite for Emily and Tide of Voices. And even if we know the poem isn’t directed at us, we’re invited to be part of that conversation, or listen in on it. The poem becomes bigger than her “you”–and at the same time, maybe it’s the listening in that makes her poems feel so intimate.

For me, when I’m writing, the trick is knowing who’s the “you.” With these one-to-one poems, I know. But for the others, I’d do well to dig a little deeper figure it out.

Do you write to a particular listener or reader? Do you have someone in mind? Or do you write for a wider audience?