On Why I Am Not a Poet

Turquoise writing

A few years ago, I started going to a local poetry workshop. I was introduced to the workshop by a new friend who was himself an emerging poet. The group was small and friendly, and the meetings were structured around some kind of theme or topic or craft lesson. It seemed a good fit for my needs at the time–a place to learn from other poets without having to commit to any more than two hours every two weeks.

Pretty soon, weeks turned into months and months into a year, and suddenly I realized that something had changed. The workshop remained the same–the group had gotten a little larger, but not so you’d feel crowded or invisible–the people remained the same–an even mix of pros (published poets, MFAs, spoken word artists) and amateurs (school teachers, retired folk, dabblers, such as myself), but something had shifted. For me.

I was at a cross roads, that point in any pursuit, where you have to either step in or step off. That point where you get serious about your tennis game and hire a pro, that point where you spring for voice lessons, that point where you set the alarm an hour early to fit in a training ride. It was the point where you either shit or get off the pot.

I flushed.

I was no poet. I didn’t want the responsibility.

Being a poet, it seemed to me, involved reading all the great poets and writing regularly. It meant going to open mics and trying out new work. It meant sending your poems out to publications. It meant handling the inevitable rejections. It meant time. It meant energy. It meant heartbreak. At least every now and then.

I was not ready.

I was also not very good. My poetry was simple, “domestic.”

It felt onerous, bogus, to call myself a poet, when in reality I was just a woman who liked to write poetry. Occasionally.

I was also intimidated. By the commitment, by the promise of suffering. Hadn’t all the greats talked about the “medieval torment” of writing (Roth), the “long, lovely suicide” of the artistic existence (Wilde)? Hadn’t Norman Mailer claimed that everyone of his books had killed him a little bit more?

I didn’t want that. I liked writing too much. It was my forgiving friend. I could show up at the page or not–no reproach, no guilt. I didn’t want it to become something I had to do, something that was going to become a burden, something that was not fun.

I’d seen this happen to writing’s close friend, reading. Not in my life, thankfully, but in my children’s and their friends’. Somewhere in the last thirty years or so, reading had become a “school subject” that was tested and poked at by curriculum developers and textbook publishers. All the pleasure had been sucked out of what was once a recreational activity.

I couldn’t risk that with my writing.

Already, with this blog, I feel a little under the gun to get something out. Already, I find myself thinking, have I written enough this week, wondering if any of the poems I wrote are worthy of being posted.

Then there’s the issue of publication. If I post a poem here, I am, in effect, excluding it from publication elsewhere. Then I start thinking, is this one publication-worthy? Should I save it? And ’round and ’round I go.

I just want to write. I enjoy the creativity, the word play. I like being able to think aloud, to examine my ideas. Of course, I’d like to be heard, to be read, but I’m not sure that identifying as a poet will do that for me.

I don’t have it in me to make a career out of my creativity. Nor is the calling so loud that I am compelled. I just like to write–blue on white, blue on white. It’s really that simple.

So I am not a poet. I claim for myself the haven of writing, a room I can step into when the fireplace beckons. I can sit alone. I need not entertain. Sometimes a friend drops in or five or twelve. And that is enough.



Photo Credit: Peter Matuchniak






Categories: On Writing

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7 replies

  1. Tina, so glad to be in the haven of writing with you. So many facets to the Po-biz side of the poetry life, I can so relate to your post. Like you, I circle back (when I get loose from the conversation in my head about what it adds up to or amounts to or does or doesn’t mean) to the tremendous joy of of writing, long-hand, alone at my little round table, the day’s words on the page. In our defense (from viewpoint of the reader outside the haven of writing), can I also say, simple is powerful, and domestic is the lifeblood…where the senses first found their way. So glad you are writing…

  2. As the author Cristina Garcia said, “Figuring out how I belong is what I work out on the page.” Writing is discovery, ‘blue on white,’ and as you say, “And that is enough.”

  3. Tina, I’ve always found a huge part of my process is naming. Choosing the name for yourself that you want is a powerful act, usually the first of many empowering steps one takes. When I was younger, choosing the call myself a feminist, for example, set me on a path that has shaped who I am today. Choosing not to be a poet, I think, is just as powerful a choice as to be one.

    I appreciate you (I hope you already know that), but especially now, especially for your honesty here. There was a time when I also thought the “suffering” of writing was overrated and idealized, but along the way I realized that I did know those feelings, even though “suffering” wasn’t the word I’d use to describe them. I’ve built my life around the writing, sacrificing other aspects that might have lead to more traditional trappings of success and I don’t regret it. But it’s not for everyone. And it’s not always as hard as it is for me for everyone else, but I do enjoy moments when we all can share in what we enjoy most about writing, which I hope is what The Poetry Lab often focuses on.

    Poet or not, you are immensely talented and creative and we always love it when you visit us!

    All the best in your journey,

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