There’s a school of criticism that prefers to read poems as though the identity of the author doesn’t matter. And there’s another approach that assumes the poet’s identity is paramount and poems can be taken as authentic expressions of the author’s race, gender, religion, or sexuality. Neither approach accounts for the poet’s ability to shape the way identity is expressed in the work. There are many factors to consider. Should the poems construct a narrative, and should the speaker of the poems be depicted playing a role in that narrative? Should recognizably personal details be included? How much tactile, physical reality should be embodied in the poems? How much personal “voice” should the poems have?

One of the first questions a reader tends to ask is: “Who’s writing this, and why?” The answers suggested within the work help to frame how the work...

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