Being a poet is hard… sometimes.
Why? Oh, there is the fact that it doesn’t pay. Many poets must work one or more manual labor or teaching jobs to actually pay the bills. Contests and a surprising number of other opportunities require entry fees or reading fees, and returns are often substantially lower than the total output. Poets travel huge distances regularly on their “free” time for readings and other related events only to read to audiences that are asleep, or forced to be in attendance, or even present for the sole purpose of nit-picking the poet to death, like a primate grooming another primate (note the brute aspect of this comparison). This is also most often at their own expense. Whatever sales may take place at such events hardly covers gasoline, if that. And who hasn’t been on the uncomfortable side of the conversation that goes something like this: “So, what do you do?” “I’m a poet.” -long silence- “No, I mean what do you do? What is your job?” As if poetry is not a job, but merely a taboo hobby.
Another reason that being a poet is hard sometimes: the incessant question “Is this about me?” Not only does this reveal an unsettling narcissism in those asking the question, it also reveals a deplorable lack of knowledge and sensitivity to poetry itself- in fact, it misses the point of it entirely. To try to define poetry is impossible, to be sure. The simplest way I can think of is that poetry is fictionalized truth. It is about everyone and no one at once. It is meant to be interpreted by the individual reader as unto his/herself alone. Poetry is solitary- both for the poet and the reader. Community comes in when people discover they like, quote, or otherwise carry the same poem in their hearts for altogether different reasons and discussions of these are both lively and satisfying, filling vital needs for everyone who partakes in such conversations. When I am asked that revolting question, my first reaction is to snatch the poem or book in consideration out of their hand without disguising any amount of personal disgust and reply “Give it back! You are not worthy of it!” I may, in a few cases, be able to relegate this indignity to an aloof sort of pity with time. But by that time the damage is done.
Another reason being a poet can be difficult is the nature of composing the poems themselves. I have been writing poetry all my life, seriously for 15 years and it has only become more and more challenging to write, not easier. And there is no shortage of distraction, whether internal or external. There are those who argue that such distraction is necessary; others that it is detrimental. There is no doubt that it is unavoidable.
But for those of us who write poetry, the art chose us. We have no choice but pursue it (the choice consists merely of whether we will publish in our lifetime or not). Perhaps some day in the future, it will be discovered that artistic tendencies are a form of OCD or that there is a strong gene which, if not compels us, then at least predisposes us to this compulsion. And it is rewarding in its own right. No, it offers absolutely no instant gratification. But that is for adolescents and those who, although past the age of adolescence, never matured beyond it. Therefore, soldiers of language, ever and onward with your mighty pen!