Wednesday, June 14, 2006

by Theresa Haffner

So you want to be a poet,
not, I guess, if all you want is to write something sugary for your boyfriend
and say, “Oh, these are my innermost feelings,”
certainly not if you want to make money,
because almost anything you could write that isn’t poetry
would make more money
if you want to be taken seriously
it takes a lifetime of preparation and hard work
just to get something published
in some obscure literary magazine
that nobody ever heard of and nobody reads

So you want to be a poet?
Most people never make the commitment
but once you make the decision
to call yourself a poet
it really gets tough
because you start to take yourself seriously
and you’ve got to put up or shut up

So you want to be a poet?
Because nobody’s ever heard of you
or ever read what you published in a
magazine with circulation ZERO
you want a bigger audience.
So you go to an open poetry reading
attended only by other poets
total non-poets in the audience ZERO.

So you want to be a poet?
Especially if you want to express yourself
or ‘Tell the Truth’
Sometimes the truth isn’t politically correct.
You have to put your ass on the line
and people tell you, “Oh, you shouldn’t write that.”
Your personal feelings make them feel uncomfortable.

So you want to be a poet?
Especially because poets don’t get paid
so unless you are independently wealthy
you have to work a day job.
When you put down “Occupation: Poet”
they say “No you aren’t.
You’re a word processor. Or a copy editor. Or a security guard.
Poetry is your hobby.”
Damned time consuming hobby. I could have collected stamps
or recycled bottles and cans.

So you want to be a poet?
You seek to gain recognition
so you ask a particularly well-known poet
in your vicinity for advice.
She says, “Why don’t you enroll in my workshop?
It only costs $260 for 8 weeks
and I will give you recognition.”

So you want to be a poet?
After four years in a workshop
surrounded by more or less untalented poets
who write endlessly about their childhood
or the intimate details of their love affairs
at last you understand why it makes people uncomfortable
to tell the truth or express your personal feelings.

They also teach you that all that off the wall
experimental stuff, the flashy catch phrases,
the florid vocabulary and inside jokes
just make your poetry sound foolish
and that takes a lot of the fun out of it
but at last you think you’re ready

So you want to be a poet?
you want to find your own voice
and that means reading all the poetry you can get
your hands on
modern stuff, contemporary stuff, classical stuff,
boring stuff in obscure literary magazines
nobody’s ever heard of,
learning all the styles and all the rules
and all the schools
just to know what’s out there and who’s who.
Then you throw it all out
and just write the way you would have written anyway.

So you want to be a poet?
For those of us not teaching college writing classes
on university campuses
and living in ivory towers
it can be downright thankless.

So you want to be a poet?
Your friend tells you not to worry.
“Great poets are never recognized during
their own lifetimes. You’ll be famous
after you’re dead.”

So you want to be a poet?
It takes a lifetime of work and preparation.
Then suddenly you’re 54 years old,
you’re no longer a word processor,
you’re on crutches and living on disability
and all the stuff you’ve written but never published
because there aren’t enough obscure literary magazines
that nobody ever heard of
is in envelopes in a file drawer.
Then you get evicted and guess what?
Hah, hah, your files are destroyed.
So much for immortality. How are you going
to be famous after you’re dead if there’s
nothing for anybody to read?

So you want to be a poet?
In lieu of fame, you settle for being part of
a literary community, a circle of friends who
are creative artists, who read each other’s work
and inspire each other.
So you dress in black and go to the poetry reading attended only by other poets
and you find most of them to be egotistical,
arrogant, desperately covering up their own inferiority, unwilling to associate with “bohemian types” dressed all in black, or else they don’t know a damned thing about poetry.

Anyway, everyone has to leave to go home right after they read because they’ve got to get up early in the morning to go to work
so there isn’t anybody to stay around afterward to chat, to get acquainted, to inspire each other.

After all, this isn’t the 1950’s and we’re not in San Francisco in a North Beach coffee house extemporizing incomprehensible hour long poems to the accompaniment of bongo drums or modern jazz till all hours of the morning while insomniac customers sip coffee and play chess, now are we?

So at last you’re on your deathbed, your last breaths rattling in your chest,
and the nurse says, “Aren’t you a poet? Haven’t I heard of you someplace, somewhere, a long time ago?”
But it’s a case of mistaken identity. She has you confused with somebody else and has never heard of you at all.

So you want to be a poet?
Which brings us back around to where we started.
If you’re going to do it you have to love it.
The hours of writing, most of which nobody will ever see,
the rewriting, the editing,
the number of bad poems for every good one
And if you’re lucky the occasional flash of glory that comes when you know you’ve written something that touches an inner core
that releases something indescribable
and makes it all worth while
It has to be a part of the fabric
of your being,
the way you see life
and your position within it.
the way you think,
how you respond to situations,
solve your problems, resolve your conflicts,
epitomize your happiness,
You have to go for broke and write
as if your life depended on it
not because you want to
but because you have to,
because without it you would not exist

And the poet said, “Without poetry, I am nothing.”

So you want to be a poet?
It’s not easy and it takes a lot of courage
But it’s rewarding when you find somebody who
has not given up, who makes a contribution
to the art, who makes a difference.

Thankfully, there are still enough poets and the people who love them (or at least tolerate them) that there will continue to be poetry for now and for the
foreseeable future, despite the hardships.

© 2005. All Rights Reserved
Theresa Haffner, 501 S. Spring St. #836
Los Angeles, CA, 90013


Blogger claude said...

Hi, Theresa, claude here from the digger forum. Just browsed through some of your stuff here and wondered how I get to finish Dark Star.

Poetry, somehow, and I don't think prose qualifies for this distinction, happens; an elemental that finds it's way out of the poet in a flow or an eruption of words attempting to describe, with as little filtration by cultural monkey-mind as can be achieved, some inner landscape or perception. Poetry, like all art, is process. Yes, there is product, hopefully, at the end, and even more hopefully, an audience to experience the product, "get" it, or not.

But the artist, and I specifically include the poet in this category, has moved on, to the next manifestation of her process: to transmit the inner to the outer. To art. The verb that describes the action, the inexorable push upon the artist that this inner has to become outer.

Which is not to say that the artist lives for process alone. The closing of the circle, the completion of the equation, the actual reception of the transmission, the "getting it" of somebody out there, that's the pure crystal we need a taste of now and then to keep on going.

I'm just a couple of months older than you, I being born after the War had ended in Europe, but before the Bomb was dropped in Japan. Born in Brooklyn, NY, by early 1964 I had found my way to Venice and the tired fragments of the Beats who hovered like ghosts around the bleak little Venice West Cafe. I had read Kerrouac (sp?) Ginsberg Ferlinghetti Snyder and Corso. But they weren't there anymore, were they? The best I got was a glimpse of a shuffling broken down Bob Kauffman sitting acros the room scribbling in a book.

But at the Venice West I found the door into the world that started with volunteering for KPFK and at the fledgling LA Free Press, starting with issue #4, which became in time an actual paid job. I also managed to catch a ride on the Great Bus Furthur with Neal Cassidy at the wheel and I did pass the Acid Test, the one down on So. Alameda. Among other things, but I bailed out of SoCal in late '66, never to return as a resident and wound up, after my stint with the diggers in SF and a commune up North, in New Mexico in 1971 and stayed.

Enjoyed your work. You can reach me via the link at the forum.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Tracie said...

Hi Theresa,
Well, I actually do not have any thing to say for a change...I guess it's not all about ryming your words!
You know I love your stuff...But I myself am not a poet, and after all of this I do not even believe I would attempt to be!!

Love you,

1:33 AM  
Blogger jonny said...

hey... I am SO a poet... welll
once in a while (?) Well mebbe not,
But I'm learnin' how ta wield a mean apostrophe

BTW that wuz great... I hadta laff out loud a couppla times


3:20 PM  

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