A little while ago I wrote a blog on here called: ‘The Night the Bottle Exploded’. In it I celebrated the fact that after attending a Coffee House Poetry reading at The Troubadour with Mark Doty, I finally realised that it’s OK to let the experiences that, as a poet, I store so carefully to explode out of the bottle in which I keep them and that it’s OK to write about them too.
However, of late I have been troubled by whether it’s actually OK to be a poet at all.
Of course I realise there are tougher jobs out there, but this one is tough too and also kind of unique. It’s very personal, it pays next to nothing, it brings with it a million small stabs of failure and rejection and its own crow of doubt (let’s call him Eric) who sits perennially on my shoulder. And I know that for others it is the same.
But, should I really be spending my time worrying about commas and line breaks and word choice and meaning and how a poem unfolds down a page and whether it says what I want it to say elegantly and with restraint? And are the joys of publication and competition acknowledgement enough to sustain me? Does it matter when there is so much grief and despair in the world? Does what I do have its own inherent beauty or am I wasting my time? I know it’s not all I do, but it’s an important thing and it takes up a lot of my head and heart.
Well, last night I got my answer and, like the night I listened to Mark Doty read, it came unexpectedly and like a bolt from the blue and it is MY answer only. I don’t claim to speak for anyone other than myself in this!
I was at Reading Poetry Festival. I was listening to Kei Miller’s Finzi Lecture ‘In Praise of Volume’ in which he articulated the tension between inherent beauty and the idea of socially constructed beauty and in which he championed poems that turn up the volume so readers can hear the poet’s cultural and social self articulated without impunity and with integrity. After all, as he said (topically given Hurricane Patricia’s imminent arrival in Mexico), ‘the hurricane does not roar in iambic pentameters’. He told us to be loud, to be a voice, and said, ‘what is language but a sound we christen?’
And then he read and by the end of his reading I was crying because I knew then that yes, it’s OK to be a poet, it’s OK to care about the craft of poetry, it’s OK to venture my poetry out into the world at the same time as worrying about money and inequality and injustice and trying to be a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend. And this is because as Kei Miller says in ‘Twelve Notes for a Light Song of Light’, ‘A light song of light believes nothing/is so substantial as light, and/that light is unstoppable,/and that light is all’, which I took to be a mandate that says yes, it’s OK for poetry to be unstoppable and be everything too.