Thursday, February 23, 2012

Getting it off my Chest

For years I have been toying with the idea as to whether I can call myself a professional poet.  The argument against such a distinction rests in the word, amateur.  Of course.  An amateur doesn’t do something because of the money.  An amateur does something because he/she loves that activity, and there is something noble in that.  I write poetry for the love of writing poetry, not the potential for some monetary or external gain.  I agree.  However, the word professional has its own set of meanings and connotations which are virtuous.  A professional is taken seriously.  A professional lends credibility to a discussion.  A professional has freed him or her self from the shackles of the work-a-day world and has chosen passion and commitment to a higher purpose over perhaps what might be easier and more convenient.

Unfortunately, or perhaps it is better for me this way, I think I have already made that decision, whether I wanted to or not. 

Before reading any more of this blog post, you need to know I am not saying anything negative about those who are able to, in my mind, be or label themselves as professional poets.  I am speaking of my very personal inability to see myself in that capacity.  I have tremendous respect for people who earn their livings as writers and poets, as well as those people who teach writing/poetry/literature in college and are associated with teaching in any capacity.


 I am a high school teacher.  I do not teach in a college writing program, and I do not advise a literary journal.  I edit one, but that is not part of this discussion.  I am part of the ‘problem’ many college instructors bemoan.  After all, I teach high school students all of those nasty habits you hear about from college writing instructors.

 I lack credentials.  Now before you go off the handle, you know as well as I do that the days of a poet being able to make a living as just a poet are gone.  I did not go to graduate school in literature, creative writing, or even American Studies.  I went to college and found poverty to be something I didn’t like, so I went out and got a job.  Yes, I teach, but I teach high school, and in today’s poetry world, I may as well be busting tires and pushing spark plugs at Bob’s 24 Hour Garage, for all the credibility teaching high school lends me.  If you are a poet and you want some credibility as a professional but don’t teach college, you had better be a doctor or a lawyer.  Of course I am exaggerating, but not by much.  There are a few exceptions to what I have said, but you should know there is also a lot of truth.

When I did go to graduate school, I did not do so for the sake of my art.  I went to school where it was cheap and for the most base of reasons.  I wanted a raise.  Again I am going on popular perception, but I seem to lack the devotion to my art which the label of professional demands.  I was not, and I am not ever going to be able to justify attending a graduate writing program so long as I find the cost not only prohibitive, but quite distasteful. 

I do not write scholarly papers regarding the act or art of writing.  I write plain-spoken poems which do not jump headlong into the waters of figurative language, and I do not write about the act of writing with much seriousness whatsoever.  I don’t rate a who’s who of readers of my blog, and I generally stay out of most of the poetry fray when controversy arises.  Well, that is unless I can find a way to release my innermost desire to be sarcastic.  Rest assured, nobody really takes much of what I have to say about writing with any level of seriousness.

I am quite literally out of the loop.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, just a statement of fact.  I am 120 miles away from any population center which warrants a Wal-Mart, let alone any sort of writer community.  I don’t attend readings, and I have to say the closest thing I have to a network is this blog, which because of Facebook will soon be one of only a handful left in existence.  As the months pass, less and less information about the poetry community is coming my way, ad I am forced to rely upon hearsay and Facebook status updates.  How do I learn about books coming out?  I don’t go to readings or faculty parties, and I don’t have anyone in my immediate life who does. I usually have to wait for a blogger friend to tell me or a press announcement on Facebook.  I know a few writers by way of e-mail, and even fewer as real people.  As I was once told by a certain poet, I “don’t know any of these very real people.” Because I am not a part of an English department or a graduate school faculty, I have very little contact with what is happening.

* * *

I have also seen a divergence between what I want to do as a poet and what I keep reading in the books of poetry I have been purchasing of late.  Don’t get me wrong.  I admire a great deal of these poets and what they are able to do.  I am simply seeing I want to go a different route.  For example, in my second Springville book, of the last 10 poems I have written for it, exactly none are the kinds of poems I want to submit for journal publication.  I want them to be the best poems I have written and I want them to be precise in language and image, but I simply cannot see any of them being accepted anywhere for publication based upon their subject matter and my execution. 

In my previous manuscript, I had 19 of the poems written for it accepted almost immediately---I was taken aback at the success I had in getting poems accepted and published.  Then nothing.  And I mean nothing.  I have been submitting other poems from the manuscript now for three years and nothing.  Now I can accept some of the poems may not be particularly well written, or written well enough, but not all of the other poems.  That I find hard to believe.  I may be a blind fool, but I believe in those poems and I cannot accept that every single one of the other poems I have submitted are not worthy of publication. 

I have also seen some pretty dreadful poetry coming out from successful poets.  Now I am not talking about poetry I don’t normally gravitate to.  I am talking about poetry which stinks up the page.  Why do those poems get published and not other poems I am reading from some very fine poets?  That’s the publishing world, and there are just some things I can’t fix the way I want. 

What it does tell me is that Collin Kelley is absolutely correct when he talks about poetry being a matter of taste for the most part.  And what I am writing, for better or worse, doesn’t seem to fall into what is trending right now.  I am not trying to come off as better than what is happening right now, just different.  I would love it if I was asked to be a part of a team to edit an anthology of poems or  contribute  to a collection of essays about writing or poetry.   (And here I must state I do realize one of the reasons I will never be asked to contribute to an anthology of essays on writing or poetry in general is because I don't do much serious writing about the act of writing.  Still,  there is a difference between not writing a lot of serious essays about writing  and poetry, and not being able to write seriously.) I would love to see my poems in Poetry or Western Humanities Review.  I would love to have my poetry anthologized or featured as an editor’s selection, or perhaps nominated for the Pushcart.  I really would.  Unfortunately I am not writing that kind of poetry.  As I stated earlier, I write poems which rarely swim in figurative language, and there are times I wish I could do that, but in the end, that kind of poetry, that place of poetry creation is not where my writing resides.

But because I love poetry, love writing poetry, love reading poetry, I will take what I can get and I will keep addressing my relationship with poetry in the ways I know how.  Even if it means I can never be a professional poet.  I am a little sad to be making this choice, or having already made it, but I know I will still write my poems, still have plenty to say about poetry, still submit poems for publication, still love what most of the poets out in the world are doing.  I will just have to be happy riding the bi-ways and back roads instead of the Poetry Freeway.

1 comment:

  1. Fuck trendy. That's my new motto. Put it on a t-shirt. :)