A number of things have come together recently that have caused me, as things do periodically, to wonder why I am so adamant to insist I am not a poet. It has taken me years to feel comfortable calling myself a writer, but that for me was always a matter of time, a simple sense of inevitability; considering myself a poet has always been akin to a small boy talking about how he was going to invent ray guns and wipe out Martian invaders before they could attack the Earth.
Facts speak differently. If I am being honest with myself, I can look back and see myself casually dabbling in poetic forms for the last 35 years. The limerick writer in fifth grade, the seventh grade romantic inspired by cheesy pop songs, the ninth grade parodist, those very serious high school years. Those college days where I looked to use my fake poet’s eye on my newly learned letterpress skills. The occasional inspiration that had me sending neatly typed (yes, on a typewriter, back in the day) verses to small publications and zines. File folders full of ideas written on scraps of paper, the small notebooks the size of a credit card jammed with ink, notes to myself about ideas for collections. And all over my computer hard drives, floppy disks, memory sticks, lines kept in small packets set off to the side like tiny fairy rings of fungi surrounding the serious trees of my fiction. Poetry Friday among the bloggicenti. Twitter, with it’s character limits, daring me to write a haiku a day during National Poetry Month.
But no, oh no, I’m no poet.
I like to think I have an ear for meter, and am quick with a rhyme when necessary. As a kid I used to be able to catch jingles off television commercials and parody them after a single listen. Later I would do the same things with classic rock. Wordplay was all it was, fun and games. Surely not the work of a poet – I’d rarely even bother to write any of it down. At times I would even complain about it as if it were an affliction, that one of the most annoying things to me about commercial television is how quickly ads can turn into ear worms for me. I promise you, I can still very clearly hear and sing cigarette ads that were forced off the air by law over 40 years ago.
Despite all this, every once in a while I catch the faux-etry bug and set out to capture some lines. And when enough of them collect a certain amount of mass I begin to actually consider sharing them with the world, sights set, hopes high, ridiculously thinking I’ve merely been hiding my light under a bushel that only now the world is ready to see, or accept.
Eventually it passes. The feelings subside because I am not serious enough. After all these years I still do not have the courage to read these words aloud, to seek out other poets and commune with those who truly do take this unique world as seriously as I take my other writing. It feels as though my poems are poseurs, the work of a dabbler who like other dabbler cannot see their own limitations. Not unlike those who see themselves as children’s book writers because they have come up with a marvelous story about a teddy bear that their grandchild just love and know it will rival Goodnight Moon if only someone will take a moment to view their brilliance…
So why dabble?
Why attempt anything for that matter? What is this need we feel as thinking beings to want to communicate with one another in very open and public forums? Not just in poetry or fiction, but in blogs, in movies, in comics, in doodles and slogans we turn into t-shirts to wear and share among the knowing, in the gluebook journals we keep of magazine photos that inspire us to turn around and create something else, something more, something different. Is it really nothing more than the craving for recognition and all the messy psychology that goes with that, or can we really just not help ourselves?
Which is probably my problem with thinking of myself as a poet: in my brain, somewhere along the way, poetry became associated with a form of narcissism. Regardless of whether or not its true, or if I even believe it, that thought makes me uncomfortable. Almost as if there is a misfiring connector near the ego center sparking confused signals and garbled communications.
I do it, dabble in words, for the same reason most people do what they do: I can’t not do it. Among all the creative conflicts in my brain, the need to use words is impossible to stop and the demand that they be limited to prose is like a tissue paper barrier to a gale force wind.