|Old Man by the Fireside by Paritosh Sen, 1968, Mixed media on Board|
I recently wrote a post about poets who blog. I cannot express in words the admiration I have for people who choose to live the life of a poet even though I puzzle at why one would do so. It is like choosing a chronic and fatal illness. Those who are reading this and wondering what I am talking about are the lucky ones. The life of one who chooses to be a poet is one endless struggle, not just with words and a career, but also with why one must do what one must do. I saluted the poets that I wrote about in that post by doing something I have never done - using my own paintings and drawings as images for that post; as soon as I did so, I was seized with the urge to take them off. There will be some of you who will wonder – what does he mean?
To those of you who know what I mean, who know the pits of despair that look back at you from the page you are writing on, who know the lifeless apathy of the colors in your palette, my respects for your courage, your commitment and your choice to become “one of us.” You probably already know that there will be more downs than ups, more rejection than you can ever imagine without having gone through it. You also probably know by now that your compulsion to be an artist is more than just desire, it is a necessity. There is pertinence and urgency for each of us to communicate "something," and for – some will say - an unlucky few, that "some thing" is incommunicable or ineffable without a certain music attached. To me, that is a poet’s being.
I am not saying there is any importance to what this "thing" is or whether or not its communicating would (or should) be considered valuable or worthless. All I am saying is that some of us get stuck with a moving itch, which we can blame on shoddy wiring and chemicals in our brains, or follow late at night until we are hearing our lines as corresponding colors or oozing wounds. I don’t think either has more or less merit or is universally true or should be broken into such binaries. But for some of us there’s no option, it just is. It does not matter what people say about whether it has worth or not. The only thing that matters is whether you feel that what you have struggled to communicate is worth hearing.
If you are like me, you have known the hours spent in writing something that at the end of it you just select all of and hit delete, or tear the page out and crumple it over to the corner of the room. You have known all the things that you have said no to just in order to be able to say yes to your identity as a poet. You have known the miracles that have kept you alive just so that you could say what you have not been able to say as yet. You have known the days and weeks, months perhaps that go by without experiencing the satisfaction of having said anything worth saying. In my case, years have gone by and my muses, varied and weathered, have all but given up on me.
I do not know anything that can help another poet do what he or she must do. What I feel at the pit of my stomach has no measure and cannot be contained in seventeen syllables. I can only pass on the desperation with which those who have gone this way before you and me have lived each day, each hour of their lives. I can only invite you to write and speak until whatever it is gets said, and then repeat until obsession. Say it better until it feels like a memory to the reader, something they’ve always felt or known but had lost access to until then. You will be scoffed at for saying the same thing over and over, you will be ridiculed and branded, and people will try to avoid you. Yet, if you keep at it, they will know in their hearts even as they close the page they were reading, that what you said was what they needed to hear. In some senses, that is an indication that both the poet and the reader are on the right road.
The greatest obstacle that you will face is the dejection that comes from not being heard. You are not alone. This is the work of the devil, since poetry is not really about being able to be heard, it is about being able to speak. It is about being able to do justice to the gift of language, of words and of memories. It is the struggle to be able to speak with the full range of inflections that are contained in the sorrows and joys of existence. My dear friend, if you have chosen to walk this path, rejoice in just the walking and suffer the tribulations gladly for they teach you how to walk justly. It is nice to be heard, it is nice to hear people say that they liked what they heard, but being a poet is not about being heard; it is about attempting to speak, to let the voice, the word and the language do what it was destined to. In the process, if you find what makes its way to the surface worth hearing, that is all that matters.
If you heard me speak, leave a comment, share this on twitter, gplus, or your facebook wall and say what you mean. I know that I am not alone.
Two must read pieces in this context - Ars Poetica by Archibald McLeish and Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. Google them if you have not already read them.