Why Do YOU Want to Be a Poet?

raven

If you had told me fifty years ago that I would someday be a poet, I would have laughed and replied, “Right. And I’ll someday be the pope, too.”

But here I stand, sans ecclesiastical garbs and kiss-the-ring, scribbling lines in the thin hours of the morning. What’s wrong with me? And what intrinsic reasons push me to do this, line by line and stanza by stanza?

I’ve given these questions some thought and decided it is a lot like teaching. Both the teacher and the poet are stuck in jobs that can never be fully mastered. Yes, over time you can become quite accomplished at either, given the tools and the tenacity, but the thought of conquering the tasks is ludicrous. The challenge will never dissipate.

And that’s what I like about both trades. The fact that you sometimes succeed and sometimes fail and always will. The fact that there are no hard and fast rules. The fact that you have to keep experimenting with new words in new ways.

Sisyphus comes to mind, in his dogged way. The hill and the stone. The job that can never be finished in any fully satisfactory way. Yes, there will be successes, but they will be as ephemeral as May sunshine. Here this morning, gone this afternoon. You may have a poem accepted in a journal of note and say, “Finally, I have arrived,” but you will quickly be disabused of the notion with the next day’s rejections. Three of them.

As for payment, how low can you go? Compared to other trades, especially in the corporate world, the teaching profession pays poorly. And compared to writing other genres, poetry writing brings negligible monetary rewards (unless “complimentary copies” now earn interest at banks).

In her poem, “But I, Too, Want to Be a Poet,” Fanny Howe has some fun with all this. Which brings me to another point. If you’re going to write poetry, let your hair down now and then. Have some fun. Laugh at yourself. Like Cherry Garcia ice cream at midnight, it’s sometimes necessary.

 

But I, Too, Want to Be a Poet
Fanny Howe

But I, too, want to be a poet
to erase from my days
confusion & poverty
fiction & a sharp tongue

To sing again
with the tones of adolescence
demanding vengeance
against my enemies, with words
clear & austere

To end this tumultuous quest
for reasonable solutions
to situations mysterious & sore

To have the height to view
myself as I view others
with lenience & love

To be free of the need
to make a waste of money
when my passion,
first and last,
is for the ecstatic lash
of the poetic line

and no visible recompense

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