On not being a poet

Writers of all forms say they feel not simply drawn, but called to write.  But when I was in grad school, I noticed something about the poets.  Many seemed more mystically attached to what they did than the writers of prose.  Those poets were not pretentious, but watching them, I got the feeling there was something purer, maybe gnostic, about the practice of poetry.  Could poetry be a more athletic practice than prose, if only in the necessary distillation and economy of words?  (I don’t mean to make too many generalizations about forms and writers: there are certain novelists who are or might as well be poets, or whose prose feels like poetry.  I love reading a novel that feels like it was written by a poet.)

I’ve written poetry most of my life, but I always feel timid taking my poetry seriously.  When it comes to poetry, I know I am a hobbyist.  Not a real poet, but someone who visits the land of poetry on vacations, wearing garish clothing and the wrong shoes, talking too loud, and taking snapshots of the pretty sites.  With a straight face, I can call myself a writer, but not a poet.

I need to work some light into that dark corner.  I need to read and write more poetry.

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11 responses to “On not being a poet

  1. If you take your poetry serious- then you can’t ..and uh 1, and uh 2, and a 3.

    Of course you take it seriously, because it’s word play, and writers play for real.

    If words matter, they matter most in a condensed state.

    Says the guy with the shorts, the black socks and the Flip video.

    Regards,

  2. This beautifully (and poetically?) describes how I see myself as a writer. Especially since most of what I write is random neural firings in my brain that blogging has made provided a forum for. It would be stretching the definition past the point of breaking to call what I do ‘memoir’, even. Yet I have come to appreciate the venue, and the practice, such as it is, because it provides me a place where I can explore creativity in a no-stakes environment, that is at least marginally more public than jotting thoughts in my journal. Having some kind of creative endeavor, or outlet, or whatEVER it is, has had some wonderful effects on me. And I think it makes the acting approaches feel less life-or-death. I don’t know if any of that resonates with your experience of writing poems. And if it does, I don’t know if it is what you want. But if you’re writing poems, enjoying it, and learning from it, then it’s a valuable part of the process.
    So many words for such a modest sentiment; I could use some distilling, no?

  3. “…that blogging has provided…” No ‘made’ necessary. Distilling after proofreading, perhaps.

  4. There once was a man from Nantucket…

  5. @ardenm, you bad girl.

  6. @ Doug: “if words matter…” I wonder about this a lot. I hope words matter. Otherwise, you’re right, why bother?

    But there are so many errant ones out there, it’s hard to know.

  7. @ Patrick, what a wonderful by-product of blogging, how nice to not have acting be so life-or-death. I am striving to let go of the preciousness, for lack of a better word, with so much of what I’m doing right now.

    I wonder if blogs are the new memoir. Of course in a sloppy way, they are, and I’m sure we’re not the first to consider this. I just hope fiction is not dead, as everyone has been proclaiming lately and for many years…

  8. @ Patrick, one other thing, the problem with blogs as the new memoir is that it’s all happening simultaneously and on all our “own” blogs while “we’re” all reading each other (as it were) so there’s too little editing and everything happens too quickly, as with the ripples of world news, etc. It’s kind of exhausting to contemplate. (Kind of?) My words are weak tea tonight.

  9. (I just learned about this @ thing.)

  10. Oh, fiction will never die. We’re storytelling creatures, it’s one of our defining qualities, we’ll never stop needing it. Even the blogging is storytelling, with plenty of fiction mixed in, even if it’s not always presented that way. (Don’t worry, I’m not REALLY equating fiction with lying, or misrepresenting facts.) TV and film are perhaps the most popular venue for fiction these days, but I think books will always be something people need. I don’t even think Kindles will mark the demise of old fashioned bound pages. That technology has stood the test of time for a reason, and it ain’t going anywhere.

    Yes, the instant turn-around of blogging is both part of its appeal and a huge weakness. The lack of editing definitely means many things are released into the world that shouldn’t be, or should have been seriously rewritten first. I suspect a similar thing happened when printing presses became widely available. Think of all those pamphlets and diatribes. Oy.

    I try to keep in mind that first drafts are all right on my blog, as long as I keep in mind that’s what they are. Keeping the stakes low means not taking myself seriously, including my output on the blog.

  11. Patrick, I’m glad you have faith in books. I do, too. I just hope we’re right. I don’t mind the idea of writing novels that would never be printed on paper (do I?) but there is something about books that I can’t see giving up. But then, I still keep a paper planner, and have no plans in the planner to get a Blackberry, or iPhone, or iPad, etc. (However, pry my MacBook out of my cold, dead hands. Try it.)

    And speaking of hands, a printing press in the wrong hands… not pretty. But who’s to say where the wrong hands are? Strunk and White? As much as I love their book, they’re dead. (I hope I got my their/they’re’s right…wait, should there an apostrophe on “they’re’s?”) Don’t get me started on erroneous “it’s.” But I don’t think that was what you were talking about. ;)

    I saw a photo of Obama’s speech with all the marks in the margin, etc. and I was inspired. Glad to know that someone still uses a pen. And that the person “running the country” cares about what he says.

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