Jannie Dresser


While interviewing Foley, we had hardly gotten out the gate, before we were embroiled in a discussion about the seemingly simple pronoun “I.” As I tried to get a fix on how Jack saw himself as a poet and writer, the man would simply not hold still! He instructed me in the ways “I” is distancing. While claiming to be “indivisible,” “individual,” the root of “I-dentity,” it inherently sets up a dichotomy where there needn‘t be one.

Foley explains by way of poetry—what often happens while talking with him. Lately he has been reading Chinese poet and critic Wai Lim Yip. In Chinese, there are many personal pronouns, although they hardly occur in Classical Chinese poetry. While a poet speaking an Indo-European language might say, “I weep” or “I am weeping,” the Classical Chinese writer would say, “Weeping is taking place.” The effect this has on the reader is to include her in the experience of the poem, while the use of “I” is alienating, dividing speaker from reader.

Foley believes the mind is a multiplicity. One hears Walt Whitman thundering, “I contain multitudes,” and must acknowledge Foley as a direct inheritor of the god-father of American poetry. But his is a Whitman that has been synthesized through Heidegger and post-modern language theorists. (Foley was a student of Paul de Man at Cornell.) Poet and publisher, Lucille Lang Day commented: “I have never met anyone more open to or knowledgeable about all types of poetry, from the experimental to the formal, than Jack Foley.”

               —Jannie Dresser