Thursday, June 22, 2006

Prescriptions of Self

At some point during the five-year period I lived in the Bay Area, I stopped thinking of myself as a poet. Even with that decision, I never stopped writing poetry. I would dash off a poem every now and then—something long-winded and esoteric or something simple driven by an image, like the sad shape of a cello held between a woman’s legs.

In fact, with the death of a laptop, I probably lost a handful of good, salvageable poems. Remember, back up.

At that time I was, of course, more free to pursue activities like dating, drinking, and a wholly unhealthy absorption in the world of PlayStation gaming. I gave up on the notion that I could publish a few poems here and there and make a clean re-entry into academia. I focused on my professional life, mired in the corporate world, and when I had the time, turned my attention to fiction. I managed to fall in love and out of love and in love once again with the woman who is now my wife.

In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure if I changed those career plans or if the sheer momentum of my life helped with the decision. Life, after all, has a momentum all its own.

Nevertheless, during that time period, I suspect that all of my friends, when they thought of me, thought of me as something of a poet. Even now, I hesitate to call myself that. At a party or a chance meeting with a stranger in a street, I'd never describe myself as a poet. I'm more than happy with the title writer—even if, on darker days, I question the accuracy of that title for the time being.

In graduate school, the poet Carolyn Kizer came to Miami to read for us. I met her just outside the elevator on my way to check my mailbox. The director of the program introduced me to her, saying, "This is Les. He's a poet."

I said hello with my head bowed, looking at the white linoleum tiles that covered the entirety of that building and sort of shook my head. "Well," I said. "I wouldn't say that just yet."

Now, I'm still not sure I'd say that. I write poems. And since turning 30, I actually try to publish those poems—sometimes. Still, it's difficult for me to think of myself as a poet. And why should I? After all, if I'm just someone who writes poems now and again, it's so much easier to remember that all of those cliches about the necessity of melancholy or the travails of being a poet are just poppycock. Me? I'm just someone who loves words like "poppycock."

After all, was Edith Wharton a poet? James Joyce? D.H. Lawrence? Borges?


Blogger Les said...

If you read the Kizer poem that's linked above. Notice that it's a vilanelle. She gets a bit free with her repetons (I dislike the pun immensely), but isn't it a lovely poem?

3:20 AM  

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