If success depends on having the ability to interact merrily with other poets, then dare I say I hope to die a penniless and nameless pauper. Don’t take me wrong. I like you. I really do. I like you a lot. We have much in common. Best of all you read my poems. But let’s face it. We all think about it. The frustration and disgust we feel in having to whore ourselves and our wares for five seconds of acknowledgement. All that time spent reading, socializing, and reviewing the works of one another when all we really want to do is capture with our fist the image spinning around in our head and write it down before it completely scrambles our gray matter. We just want to create a poem.
So why do we do it then? Why do we spend countless hours promoting ourselves as an addendum to someone else’s efforts? Why do we follow, and like, and pin, and tweet, and comment? Why don’t we stand up and scream enough! Because that’s what poetry has become.
We look back and see the successes of yesterday and deep inside we want what they had. All those dead poets who were lucky enough to live during a time when the ease of social media hadn’t changed the thought of being a published poet from the crazy dreams of ranting, unstable, lunatics to one shared by every used car salesman, doctor, postal worker, and physicists. Because poetry has become that second job. And for some even the third or fourth. Poetry is that thing we squeeze in between laundry, golf, and sitcoms. We’ve lost respect for it. Then we wonder: Why doesn’t the rest of the world take us seriously?
I ‘ll tell you why. Because in today’s world success is less about one’s ability than about likeability. It’s not enough to be good. You have to look good while kissing the baby. That’s a hard line to tow when most of the real, deeply talented works are ones that seep through the wounds of those who are tortured and ragged. Our first impressions are not always a beautiful thing. Some are a complete train wreck. But wait! Train wrecks sell! Just ask any news outlet. So there is our catch22.
For your work to stand out it must be memorable. Like the images of Hiroshima or WWII. It can’t be all babies and teacups. But to be known enough for anyone to read these less than beautiful horrors, you have to be smooth and glassy as a politician.
So why should we care if we’re a recognized poet? When recognition is clearly not the measure of success. The real success of any poet is in returning Poetry to a discipline of respect. You have to respect Poetry. You have to respect the poem. Most of all you have to respect the poet. And since the poem comes from you, you have to respect yourself. To do that you have to be honest. Who are you really? Are you a politician or a poet?
I’m trying to become a poet. I’m not there yet. I haven’t learned all there is to learn. I don’t have a great writing degree and I’m still unsure as to how much I’m willing to sacrifice. But I’m asking those questions. I’m trying to be honest.
The key to success (both yours and mine) is in how to perceive it. It starts within the soul and projects outward. Spend your time kissing babies and riding the railways and you’ll undoubtedly be seen as a great Politian. Throw yourself from that train and you just might become a truly great poet.
Here’s to every one of us making the news!