Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How to be a poet

1. You read poetry.
2. You write poetry.
3. You publish poetry.
It feels like it could be a grocery list you can just tick off and then you're done. It's actually more like this: You read poetry, both old and contemporary, as much as you could reach in terms of breadth and depth. You try to develop a sensibility, identify what you like and what you don't, maybe get a solid grounding in literary movements and poetics. Know the best minds of your generation and those that come before you.

And then you write. And you experiment in forms, all the old ones, or invent new ones. And you enrich yourself--exercise your senses, distill your experiences--to find themes, insights and images that are uniquely yours. And challenge yourself. And wrestle with your language. And keep to your course in spite of your doubts. Think and breathe and live poetry.

You may enroll in a course, and learn under someone, and be peer-reviewed and learn to revise listening to others' criticism and your own convictions.

And then you will submit your work out there, to magazines and journals, to contests. To everything and anything that would possibly accept your work. And then it fails, and you struggle until one day it doesn't. And then it shows up in print, and you're higher than the heavens. And then the high fades, and you go at it again.

When will it stop? The best part is that it doesn't, not unless you raise your hands in surrender. The pursuit of poetry is the pursuit of life. I really believe that.

I'm not sure what else a poet aspires to. Residency? Grants? Publishing books? Fame? I'm nowhere near there yet. I think I would like to be the kind of poet nobody has heard of, but whose work is scattered like seeds in different publications. I want to publish poetry books, poetry zines, and be anthologized. But those are distant thoughts, distant like the ship whose sails are outlined behind the fog.

Right now I'm trying to read and learn. And write.

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