Tuesday, June 26, 2007


There are several good reasons not to be a poet. Although I'm tempted to enumerate the handful that flash across my mind or mention the few that have made me actively contemplate whether or not I cared enough to continue thinking of myself as a poet, I think the reasons you would list would be far more valuable to you.

Go ahead. List them.


In college (where so many of my stories take place), I first read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I was struck and oddly emboldened by his suggestions that one ought not to write poetry if one can avoid it.

Ich Muss.

More, I adored that book for a while. It set a path out for me, despite the limited interest I have in angels. I gave the book to a dear friend (apologizing for the sexism that seeped through the poet's prose). I have no idea, even now, if she read it. More, I sometimes suspect she followed Rilke's advice the way one would follow some stricture from a holy text and, like the young poet to whom the letters were addressed, decided that her inner life was nothing like the Bohemian modernist, that life could be lived more fully without the constant need to write, or that she had nothing to say.


As this project probably makes clear, I no longer agree with Rilke. One can simply decide to become a poet, put in the work, and perhaps, leave the world something lovely. After all, one can decide to become an engineer or an accountant. Why should poetry be any different?

If you think you can write, and if you want to write, try it. But steel yourself against rejection because, at times, you might feel that you’re trapped in a deluge of those little slips.

Go on try it.


Let's not make ourselves false promises, unless we need to. Only a few poems written each year will survive time's onslaught. Perhaps you can write one of those poems, eventually. The odds are against it. Even still, there are several good reasons to be a poet.

List those, even if they seem silly, and perhaps you'll see, as I have, that the pleasure of a finely wrought line, a glistening idea, or a simple smile from a reader is well worth the hassle. Perhaps you'll see that you (like all of us) have more to say than anyone could have imagined.

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Blogger Les said...

If you search for "Letters..." you can find an online text. I'd suggest, however, hopping over to Amazon so that Stephen Mitchell (a phenomenal translator) can get his due.

11:07 AM  

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