Friday, September 2, 2016

Being about what we're about

Yesterday I wrote about my new journaling habit—just a few days old, but fruitful. My post ended with an elliptical fragment: “Now to see how long I can keep the momentum going ….”

Not long, apparently, as I forgot all about it yesterday.

I’m a fickle journal-keeper. I am not, however, a fickle writer. That’s still an everyday thing—something I don’t neglect, ever; although my output varies, I always do the work.

And that brings me to today’s topic: being about what we say we’re about. If I claim that I keep a journal, don’t I need to keep a journal—a jour-nal, a daily record? If I don’t, I’m full of hot air.

But I can top that. For several years, I continued to call myself a poet, even though I was not writing poems. I know lots of people who do the same. Even in grad school, I remember plucking poems from my 30-page application for workshop—thirty pages being sufficient to get me through roughly three of my four semesters of workshops.

I didn’t go quite that far. But when I used old work in a workshop, I was not being a poet. I wasn’t even being much of a poetry student. I’ve since turned it around, but I remain implicated as someone who felt ashamed to say she wasn’t writing, and so clung to the poet title, even though it was unearned.

Several years back, I read poetry with someone, and I was so impressed by her work. But then we had an occasion to read together again four years later, and shockingly, she read the very same poems, and she subtly conveyed the impression that the poems were new.

Look—writers write. Poets make poetry. It’s not a label that doesn’t expire; if you last wrote a poem ten years ago, you’re a former poet.

Some people make the mistake of thinking that quality determines whether we deserve the title of poet. I know people who don’t think they deserve to be called a poet because they don’t think they’re at the point where they’ve earned the name.

My bullshit meter beeps when I hear a statement like that, but in the unlikely event that such a statement is sincere, I have good news: If you regularly write poems, or try to, you’re a poet—just as people who run every day with terrible form are still runners, and people who hang-glide into a mountain are still (bad) hang-gliders, and the guy who punches you in the nose, even weakly and ineffectually, is still a fighter.

I would add that a small dry spell doesn’t mean we’re no longer poets. Sometimes writing is about writing, and sometimes it’s about gathering and listening and thinking.

But if you haven’t written and you don’t see yourself doing so any time soon, you’re probably a lot of beautiful things—but you’re not a poet.

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