All of my writing life I have been constantly leaning to one extreme or the other regarding my status as a poet. Am I a poet, or am I a person who happens to write poetry. Is one of those things better that the other? Well, I am not going to be trying to answer which is better, but I am going to try and explain why I am in the camp I am in: That of being a poet.
First, I need to say I am not a poet because I read poetry, nor am I a poet because I read a lot of poetry. No, there hasn't been some sudden explosion in the numbers of people who read poetry for the love of reading poetry, but I think it takes more. So am I a poet because I write poetry? Some might say yes, or at least say writing poetry is a definite step in the right direction to becoming a poet. Still, writing poetry is not why I currently believe myself a poet. Here then are a few reasons why I am a poet:
1. Poetry gets more difficult for me to write every day and I am still in love with the idea I can some day write a perfect poem.
Why does writing poetry get more difficult? Because every time I come to poetry something has changed, like my understanding of poetry and like my expectations of myself and what I want poetry to give me. You see, the more I know about poetry, the more I have to hold myself accountable for what I write. I am still going to write terrible and awful poems, but the more I know about poetry, the more time I spend making sure I am doing everything I know to make the poem right. The more time I put into that activity means the more I expect from myself. I don't want to keep making the same mistakes over and over, especially when I should know better. The more work I do, and the more I expect from myself adds up to my wanting more from poetry. I want poetry to continually surprise me, and I want my poetry to be the kind in which I can delight. The it starts all over, because the more I expect from poetry means I am forced to learn more about it so I can be prepared to come to poetry with my very best efforts.
2. I literally hear many of my poems. They come to me (either in fragments or complete) at the most odd moments and I instinctively know there is only one thing to do with them---write them.
It's as simple as that. You may not think anything of it, but I strongly believe there is some sort of mystical connection where creativity is concerned. Do not make the mistake of equating intelligence with creativity. I think creativity is both a component of intelligence and an independent agency, operating somewhere in the human mind. For those of you who are scientifically inclined, think about the spooky nature of quantum connectivity. There is something bigger at play with creativity (and my poetry, specifically) than simply the mechanical work involved.
When I fail to write one of the poems which come to me (and not all of them come to me in the way I described above) I feel as if . . .no, I know with a certainty I have wasted an opportunity. How big an opportunity I cannot say because it is impossible to compare something which exists to something which does not. All I know is I feel as if I have let something, a part of me go, which can never be retrieved.
3. When I write a poem, I feel more than just good.
When I write a poem, even a mediocre poem, I feel as if I have slipped into some concrete, real groove. I feel a sense of relief. I feel in tune with the universe because for a brief moment, I am literally in the right place at the right time. To add to that, so few things in my life make me feel that way. It's poetry, family, teaching, and a few friends. That's it. Nothing else comes close on such a consistent level.
Other poets know what I am talking about---any artist does, too. The universe slows down for a few moments and there is a real sense of belonging, as if one's place in the universe is assured and acknowledged.
There is also this: Wen I feel like I do when I have written a poem which works, I am taken back to my first reason. I want the challenge of having that feeling again, knowing the whole time it will be more difficult than the last time, and that I will more than likely be beaten.
Do you know what? It doesn't matter. What matters is I keep coming back, and that's why I am a poet and not somebody who happens to write poems.