Am I a real poet? Beginning in late adolescence, I began to ask myself that question. In various ways, I tried to get others–mainly people I considered “real poets”–to answer it for me. On the face of it, it’s kind of an absurd question. People don’t ask, “Am I a real plumber? Am I a real neurosurgeon? Am I a real opera singer?” What an odd question it would be for them. You go to school, you go to work, you test your skills and talents, and just…do it. Some succeed better than others. But essentially, you are what you do. As it happens, at a certain point in life, I just knew that I was, without question, a poet.
As a scribbler from childhood, I couldn’t help it that much of what I wrote came out in the form of verse. I didn’t write stories. I didn’t write journalistic reports. I didn’t write song lyrics while picking out chords on my cherished guitar. I didn’t have a guitar. (We had a ukelele, but it wasn’t fashionable at the time.) I read and re-read poems I liked. I wrote imitations of them. I used poems to curry favor with teachers. I put together little poetry collections. I sent poems to magazines that published poems by children. (Never successfully.)
These days, most school children are encouraged to write poetry–which is to say, to put together words with some kind of imaginative language strung in short lines down the page. It’s good practice for manipulating words. They can call it poetry. But most of these “poets” grow up to be plumbers or neurosurgeons or–a few–opera singers. They make a better living than any “real poet” ever has.
Me? I got stuck with being a Real Poet. I hear messages in my mind and write them down. Sometimes they are what you could call “prophetic”–wisdom beyond my experience that becomes more true and informative to my life over time. Sometimes they are critical of culture, curious about science, or cries of experience. Sometimes they are simply songs about beauty and gratitude. Sometimes they even get published. Am I a “real poet”? Who gets to say??
At first I wrote for comfort.
And then I wrote to blame.
And then I wrote in rapture
at the music of a name.
And then I wrote for money.
And then I wrote for fame.
And now I never write,
and all the world is quite the same.