On Being a Poet

Whenever someone says to me, “Oh, so you like to write poetry; I had an aunt who liked to write poems,” I know they have no idea what it is to be a poet.

A poet is not someone who likes to write poems. A poet is driven to write. Poetry is the outcome of being born a poet. The end-product of walking among this human tribe and taking it all in. The poet is born with a magnifying glass in her hand, an amplifier in her heart, an inner tuning fork that strikes not just one note, but all of them.

The poet is the translation tool of the human community. Because it never bothered to learn a common language with which to express our shared collective experience, the poet exists.

Arguing with a poet is arguing with yourself. Dismissing a poet’s insights is dismissing insights gained from being in the midst of the maelstrom connected to every person there. Yet again and again we are perceived as living in ivory towers, cut off from others; removed from the maelstrom. The poet rarely if ever puts pen to paper to write about it unless she can say this one thing with complete honesty: I am the maelstrom.

The poet is the most dangerous member of any society in which false narratives prevail. This is because she is driven to use her magnifying glass to burn the paper on which those narratives are written. And no matter how much she is marginalized for it, her fire still manages to direct the light where it needs to shine.

If you want to insult a poet, tell her she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s got it all wrong. Tell her she’s too young, too old, too educated or not educated enough. Too worldly, or not worldly enough. Demand to know where she heard that. Tell the poet she can’t possibly have seen what she’s seen, felt what she’s felt, or learned what she’s learned from her life of walking among this human tribe, taking notes every step of the way.

When a poet holds up a mirror that shows you how broken you are, go ahead and tell her she’s the one who’s broken and needs to stop being so sensitive. The poet knows there’s a vast difference between being sensitive and being fragile because she lives in a society that does not.

The difference between a philosopher and a poet is the poet must learn everything the philosopher learns and then perfect the phrasings that make it accessible to everyone else. The difference between a priest and a poet is the poet does not accept the need for an intermediary in any relationship, not even with the Divine. If she has not experienced it directly, she does not pretend to in her poetry.

The poet grows weary of hearing lovers and other captors say, “what’s in it for me?” when she heads for the podium to spill her secrets. Because that’s what’s in it for them; those secrets. The poet understands that none of it is about her. It’s about all of us. And only those who think a poet is merely someone who likes to write poems will fail to recognize that.

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

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