Monday, March 2, 2015

I am not a poet

The essay I read today that my former mentor wrote partly about her creative nonfiction student who keeps claiming not to be a poet broke me down today.

I am not a poet.

I am a writer, and I'm doing the work that proves I'm a working writer by writing every day, putting some of the work out into the world, revising, working as an editor, which improves my own writing.

But I am not a poet.

I'm a prose writer who likes the structure of poetry, likes the line and image and push of metaphor. I like tropes and caesura, couplets and persona.

I like point of view and leaping and frogs and lizards and black house spiders and my father's skunk hair and my brother's use of the word "dolt."

But I am not a poet.

I'm a prose writer, a story writer, who likes to use elements of poetry.

This is perfectly all right, you know, that I'm not really a poet. And if someday I get poems published or even a chapbook or full-length manuscript published, well, that's peachy.

But I am not a poet.

I am, simply, a writer.

I'll continue to read poems and study poems and write poems, but I think I'll feel much freer if I stop thinking of myself as a poet.

What a relief!

What a relief.

I tried to conquer the ice on my driveway, but my body wore out and hurt for the second day in a row of an entire winter of not hurting while shoveling snow.

Ice is different. It requires violence and a pissed-offness that I feel lately but can't translate into my muscles and skeleton.

I like the skeleton of poems, like the way they look on the page even when the lines are long or the poem is a prose poem.

I like looping back through a stanza and revisiting an earlier stanza but secretly so no one but me knows what I'm doing.

I like my personal symbols and my memories that I pretend are metaphors.

The chalk house in "Marching Band Lullaby" is not a metaphor. It's a memory.

Or can memories be metaphors? Is that what memories are?

When I remember a conversation I had once with my mother telling me I was a garrulous 5 year old, is that a metaphor for a sparrow who won't stop chirping?

When I remember a conversation I had with my mother telling me she feared her outgoing nature perhaps silenced me and she regretted that, is that a metaphor for a mute, badly paved driveway?

What do I know?

I studied and studied and read and emulated and reviewed and practiced and revised and critiqued and wrote new and rewrote completely and dissected and read some more and tried to understand but I'm not really that bright so that MFA? I don't think it really belongs to me. I think it belongs to my 20-year-old self who graduated with a bachelor's in English and German and should have gone on to study comparative literature.

If I'd stayed in the habit of literary criticism, I would probably be a better poet.

But maybe it doesn't matter if I'm a better poet. Maybe what matters is that I keep writing and shifting, growing into work that right now puzzles me because I don't know what it is, stories that whisper beginnings in my ear while I sleep but elude me when I wake up, hung over from watching too much Netflix or reading until 4 a.m., eyes small and cloudy when I look in my bathroom mirror in the morning.

All I am is writing and words. I'm commas, semicolons, parentheses; I'm image and wildness, but only on the page, never in life. No wild impulses except the one that hits me now and then and demands I strip off my clothes, reveal my flab and run barefoot and naked up the street at 4 a.m. just after I finish reading. I would run and run until I found a jungle, maybe crossed an ocean, which would mean I would have to swim naked in salt water, and the salt would exfoliate my skin. On the shore I would stand up naked, still full of blubber but not as much, hungry for pasta but limited to leaves and coconuts, which I despise. My blubber and muscles would shiver in the sand, and I would decide to find a freshwater pond on the land and risk some kind of poisoning because the thirst would enrage me so.

I once wrote about an enraged thirst in a poem that was a lyric poem before I had any ambition to write lyric poems or essays.

Do I need to define what I'm writing before I write it?

This is my current struggle.

I think the answer needs to be “no.”

It would be better if I went back to fiction, genre fiction where no one thinks about tropes and symbols and lyricism but maybe allows for the occasional metaphor.


I am thinking too much about what I am writing and not spending enough time writing it, though I write it all the time, every day, something new, even just a line or a scene or a stanza or a paragraph toward something. Or a journal entry.

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