Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Being a poet, writing poems

"... most poets seem to look at the writing of poetry not as an activity but as the basis for an identity."

I remember my friend Geoff Brock saying once that he did not like to say, "I'm a poet." He preferred to say, "I write poems." Being a "poet" was something, he suggested, that one should not claim for oneself, because it had a value attached to it.

My quotation above from Robert Archambeau suggests that "poet" in the U.S. today is no longer a "value" but instead a "profession" like any other, or within the academy, a "specialty." As RA concludes:

"I'm not even sure if we've got a name for someone who writes poetry and criticism, indulges in literary theory, teaches and writes about literature from a wide range of countries and periods, and does so for both specialized and non-specialized audiences."

How about "intellectual"?


Archambeau said...

"Intellectual," eh? I think I like that.


Andrew Shields said...

I like "intellectual" more and more, perhaps especially because many people downplay the "intellectual" side of writing poetry (notice how I avoid saying "of being a poet").

Donald Brown said...

I've got some cavils about these terms.

First of all "intellectual" is not generally viewed as one who writes poetry -- nor who is necessarily concerned much with poetry. Was Foucault not an intellectual? Zizek? So "intellectual" doesn't work for those who write poetry "as an identity."

And I back that idea that writing poetry is a major component of identity, if one does write it. I'm with Geoff Brock in saying that it's better to say "I write poems" rather than "I am a poet" if only because we tend to assume a larger claim made in the latter. Like the difference between "I am a painter / photographer" or "I paint pictures / take photos" and "I am an artist." Both "artist" and "poet" carry a sense of self-conception, in the speaker, but also, maybe, a residual sense of a designated role (a role that goes beyond simply making or writing something). If you write poems, it's up to others to call you "a poet," maybe.

When I was young I used to say: "I am a poet whether or not I ever write a line of poetry." The idea being that for me poetry wasn't even about writing, per se, it was about perception, orientation, intuition, a way of being in the world. That sense is NOT conveyed by the status of poet as position or job description. But then I was a rather impossible young man... However, that conception has made me rather exacting of those who claim to be "poets" simply because they write poetry.