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"The person you call ’I’" : configurations of identity in the poetry of P. K. Page Stiles, Diane

Abstract

Many of P.K. Page's poems configure identity in terms of encounters between the self and an "other" sometimes internal and sometimes external to the self. Ego-psychology and relational psychoanalysis suggest some fundamental principles describing the dynamics of these encounters. Although the self in Page's poetry apparently evolves from objectifying the other to identifying with it, this overt tendency towards identification is counterbalanced by less obvious tendencies towards objectification of the other. Some of her earliest speakers objectify and criticize the "feminine" behaviour of office workers. Her representations of female subjects become increasingly sympathetic, until in "After Rain" (1956), the speaker tries to integrate a sense of femininity into her own identity. She achieves this, however, by aligning masculinity with a lower socio-economic class than her own. Speakers in other early poems progress from objectifying to identifying with conflicts represented along Freudian lines. In the early 1940s, third-person speakers describe conflicts between other people. In later poems these conflicts are progressively internalized, until in "Melanie's Nite-Book" (1976) the speaker acknowledges the connections between her internal psychic conflicts and her relationship with her father. At the same time, however, this speaker objectifies her mother. In Page's mid-career poetry, her speakers progressively acknowledge other psychological conflicts, configured in Jungian terms. Whereas her early speakers recoil in horror from the subconscious elements of their subjects' minds, the later "Preparation" (1971) negotiates an uneasy truce between the conscious and unconscious elements of the speaker's own mind. Page's later "transcendent" poetry is influenced by Sufism. Her speakers' progressive acceptance of the internal other, however, depends on the absence of a true external other who could challenge these later visions of unity. A few of Page's early poems suggest that paradoxically, we arrive at our fullest experience of the self through encountering an other we cannot control through either objectification or identification. Page's oeuvre offers a fragmented but remarkably comprehensive impression of a self as it evolves through adult life. At the same time, examining her various configurations of identity reveals dimensions of the poetry that no other critical approach has illuminated.

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