Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

What I Mean When I Say I Write Poetry

In poetry on March 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Through the help of a very wise woman, I have recently come to realize that I am, in fact, envious of Kirk’s career (as if you, dear reader, hadn’t figured that out by now).  He does get to be the star when meeting new people (“What do you do?… Oh really?”).  Then said person turns to me and asks what I do.  I tend to stumble around a bit on the answer.  “Oh, I teach college.  No, not really English.  Basic communications…I freelance edit and write a bit.  But really, I write creatively, too.  A bit.” 

“Oh,” says New Person hopefully.  “Novels?”

“Err. Agh.  Well, no, not really. Poetry.”

Silence.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Look of glazed confusion entering New Person’s eyes.  Then, New Person recovers composure.

“Oh, really,” says New Person in a very different tone than when Kirk’s career is unveiled.  “Good for you.”

And so New Person moves on, and I end up feeling like a wee and generally a non-productive member of society. 

I have had a tendency to get offended by this reaction until I realized, during my conversation with my wise woman, that people are not meaning to be offensive – they honestly might just not know what a contemporary poet can write. 

Of course they don’t know.  They may have gone through high school reading romantic poets or Shakespearean sonnets or Sylvia Plath (not that I’m criticizing these) and being asked to eek Deep Penetrating Meaning Out of Every Single Word, then being summarily told their interpretations are wrong.  Or perhaps they’ve only been exposed to poetry via Jewel or turbid teenage angst diary poetry, much like what I wrote in high school, when I actually penned a line about “rain pouring down the windows of my soul.” 

So what do I mean when I say I write poetry and why do I do it? 

I write poetry because it is an art form like no other; it has the ability to act as a narrative, as a single image, as a play, as experiment.  It is about recognizing the connections between things.  It is meditation, and it is, in the Greek sense, chorus.  It can, in the space of a few lines, do everything it would take a novel 300 pages to achieve.  It is prayer, the canary in the coal mine, song and cry.   It can be damned funny, too. 

Poetry can do this:

and this:

I am honoured to be working in such a tradition.

I’d be interested in learning about your favourite poets or poems, if you have them. 

 (Perhaps, I say cheekily, you will find them in my book, Daughters of Men, Brick Books, 2008). 


In other news, I have a group of students who have just written papers on why arts and culture programs/individuals should or should not be publicly funded.  They are making me weep with happiness, because they are articulate, passionate and exceedingly thoughtful and so entirely unexpected. 

I also signed up for the marathon and have been dutifully completing my long runs.  I would not have been happy “just” completing the half-marathon (plus, it conveniently sold out).  Why I need to have such a huge goal still remains a mystery, but a need it is, and I will walk or crawl across the finish line if I have to.  I may need people there to pull me across.

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