(11/06/1970 / Sri Lanka)

So You Want To Be A Poet?

(for Suzanne Lummis)

So you want to be a poet?
Not, I guess, if all you want is to write something
sugary for your boyfriend
and say, "Oh, these are my innermost feelings, "
Certainly not if you want to make money,
because almost anything you could write that isn't poetry
would make more money
but
if you want to be taken seriously
it takes a lifetime of preparation and hard work
just to get something published
in some obscure literary magazine
that nobody ever heard of and nobody reads

So you want to be a poet?
Most people never make the commitment
but once you make the decision
to call yourself a poet
it really gets tough
because you start to take yourself seriously
and you've got to put up or shut up

So you want to be a poet?
Because nobody's ever heard of you
or ever read what you published in a
magazine with circulation ZERO
you want a bigger audience.
So you go to an open poetry reading
attended only by other poets
total non-poets in the audience ZERO.

So you want to be a poet?
Especially if you want to express yourself
or ‘Tell the Truth'
Sometimes the truth isn't politically correct.
You have to put your ass on the line
and people tell you, "Oh, you shouldn't write that."
Your personal feelings make them feel uncomfortable.

So you want to be a poet?
Especially because poets don't get paid
so unless you are independently wealthy
you have to work a day job.
When you put down "Occupation: Poet"
they say "No you aren't.
You're a word processor. Or a copy editor.
Or a security guard.
Poetry is your hobby."

Damned time consuming hobby. I could have collected stamps
or recycled bottles and cans.

So you want to be a poet?
You seek to gain recognition
so you ask a particularly well-known poet
in your vicinity for advice.
She says, "Why don't you enroll in my workshop?
It only costs $260 for 8 weeks
and I will give you recognition."

So you want to be a poet?
After four years in a workshop
surrounded by more or less untalented poets
who write endlessly about their childhood
or the intimate details of their love affairs
at last you understand why it makes people uncomfortable
to tell the truth or express your personal feelings.

They also teach you that all that off the wall
experimental stuff, the flashy catch phrases,
the florid vocabulary and inside jokes
just make your poetry sound foolish
and that takes a lot of the fun out of it
but at last you think you're ready

So you want to be a poet?
you want to find your own voice
and that means reading all the poetry you can get
your hands on
modern stuff, contemporary stuff, classical stuff,
boring stuff in obscure literary magazines
nobody's ever heard of,
learning all the styles and all the rules
and all the schools
just to know what's out there and who's who.
Then you throw it all out
and just write the way you would have written anyway.

So you want to be a poet?
For those of us not teaching college writing classes
on university campuses
and living in ivory towers
it can be downright disheartening.

So you want to be a poet?
Your friend tells you not to worry.
"Great poets are never recognized during
their own lifetimes. You'll be famous
after you're dead."

So you want to be a poet?
It takes a lifetime of work and preparation.
Then suddenly you're 54 years old,
you're no longer a word processor,
you're on crutches and living on disability
and all the stuff you've written but never published
because there aren't enough obscure literary magazines
that nobody ever heard of
is in envelopes in a file drawer.
Then you get evicted and guess what?
Hah, hah, hah! Your files are accidently destroyed.
So much for immortality. How are you going
to be famous after you're dead if there's
nothing for anybody to read?

So you want to be a poet?
In lieu of fame, you settle for being part of
a literary community, a circle of friends who
are creative artists, who read each other's work
and inspire each other.
So you dress in black and go to the poetry reading
attended only by other poets
and you find most of them to be egotistical,
arrogant, desperately covering up their own inferiority,
unwilling to associate with "bohemian types"
dressed all in black, or else they don't know a
damned thing about poetry.

Anyway, everyone has to leave to go home
right after they read because they've got to get up
early in the morning to go to work.
So there isn't anybody to stay around afterward
to chat, to get acquainted, to inspire each other.

After all, this isn't the 1950's and we're not in
San Francisco in a North Beach coffee house
extemporizing incomprehensible hour long poems
to the accompaniment of bongo drums or modern jazz
till all hours of the morning while insomniac customers
sip coffee and play chess, now are we?

So at last you're on your deathbed, your last breaths
rattling in your chest, and the nurse says, "Aren't you
a poet? Haven't I heard of you someplace, somewhere,
a long time ago? "

But it's a case of mistaken identity. She has you confused
with somebody else and has never heard of you at all.

So you want to be a poet?
Which brings us back around to where we started.
If you're going to write it you have to love it.
The hours of writing, most of which nobody will ever see,
the rewriting, the editing,
the number of bad poems for every good one
And if you're lucky the occasional flash of glory
that comes when you know you've written something
that touches an inner core,
that releases something indescribable
and makes it all worth while

It has to be a part of the fabric
of your being,
the way you see life
and your position within it.
the way you think,
how you respond to situations,
solve your problems, resolve your conflicts,
epitomize your happiness,

You have to go for broke and write
as if your life depended on it
not because you want to
but because you have to,
because without it you would not exist

And the poet said, "Without poetry, I am nothing."

So you want to be a poet?
It's not easy and it takes a lot of courage
But it's rewarding when you find somebody who
has not given up, who makes a contribution
to the art, who makes a difference.

Thankfully, there are still enough poets
and the people who love them (or at least tolerate them)
that there will continue to be poetry for now and for the
foreseeable future, despite the hardships.

User Rating: 3,5 / 5 ( 1 votes ) 18

Comments (18)

I tried to comment once before, but PH got stuck. Congratulations on getting Poem of the Day. I saw your poem like a mirror and it's reflection. Similar- but reversed. On one side, the ability to walk aimless is a wonderful freeing experience...on the other, it could be alienation...separated from the rest of the world from which you walk around. I wrote sometime longer the first time, but it got lost! Again, congratulations on your expressive write.
Congratulations on Member Poem of the Day. I am a little late, but haven't been on PH in a while. I like the concept of your poem. The idea of passing time and having the freedom to do so while everyone else seems to have such purpose or responsibility is awesome. Well done. Take care.
Congrats on member poem of the Day.
What is this my friend? From the way readers have praised you here, I thought probably you have experimented with your poetry. But painful re-reading suggests that you have written nonsense. Try to improve your writing skills man. Don't be misled by the praise. They might even not have gone through your poem. Commenting for most of them is a daily ritual to improve their standing.
Lovely piece of poetry, well articulated and nicely brought forth in beautiful rhyme scheme with conviction. Thanks for sharing Udaya.
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