The internal experience of identity formation of poets: An exploratory study using cross-sectional thematic data gathered from interviews with ten male poets

Alan Philip Albert (1992)

The study of identity formation, Erik Erikson suggested, is "as strategic in our time as the study of sexuality was in Freud's time" (1963, p. 282). Maslow (1971, p. 93) suggested that "common sense means living in the world as it is today, but creative people are people who don't want the world as it is today but want to make another world." It was this insistence upon making another world, a world more suitably their own, that was investigated in this exploratory study of the identity formation of male poets. Ten male poets were interviewed twice for one-and-one-half hours each time. Special attention was given to their identities as poets/writers. Nine thematic domains were incorporated in gathering cross-sectional data and formulating conclusions and hypotheses. They included Family/Home Environments, Focal Life Events, Relationships/Mentors, Stressors, Insider/Outsider perceptions, Other Interests, Personality, Writing, and the global sense of Identity as Poet. The thematic data collected supported the notion that the subjects' identities were formed through a combination of factors, including ego strength (having little, if any, familial support for their interests), an ability to tolerate ambiguity, a need (both inherent and developed) to shape their worlds and their experiences through the making of poems, and a robustness of effort in pushing themselves to successful publication of their work. It was found that, overall, there was a desire to "reconstruct a world" which was somehow lost or never adequately formed for these poets. Therefore, a need to make, to form and create new objects (poems), was enlisted. This making of new objects could both replace aspects of the missing or traumatic childhood, or parental figure(s), and equip the self with an identity that was continually exploring and "mining the self." This self could serve as one in which a sense of ongoing conversation and discovery could be achieved. The complexity of studying identity formation in poets was discussed, as well as suggestions for future research. Included were suggestions for focusing on one thematic domain, a single subject, or investigating across-discipline populations, as in comparing poets' with painters' identity formations.