I don't think being a poet necessarily disqualifies one from being a spy, but I could understand if espionage-agencies worldwide would be wary of deploying poets as spies. I think poets are more likely than other people to get confused by codes because poets are tempted to deconstruct codes and try to turn them into poems. Also, what "cover" could usefully be constructed for spy-poets? True, spy-poets could give readings and teach creative writing in the nation on which they were supposed to be spying, but would that put them close in information crucial to national security? I envisage a spy-poet contacting his or her handler and excitingly reported that poets from the nation in question allude to 19th century European philosophy in extremely inventive ways. I can hear the handler saying, "Gee, that's fascinating." I can also envisage spy-poets padding their expense-accounts with purchases of notebooks, poetry-books, pens, coffee, and wine. On the other hand, "the enemy" might suspect that the poet would be a spy, but the counterintuitive characteristic of a poet might also make the poet a likely spy. How convoluted this poetry-espionage gets, and so quickly!
He was supposed to be in Phoenix
giving false secret information to agents
from a nation whose economy was
smaller than Arizona's. Instead he lay
in bed in North Dakota, writing poems
about cats, observing that cats know what
they want humans to do and watch to see
if humans do it, and if the humans don't
do it, the cats devise ways to change
humans' behavior. Some of the poems
worked with the idea that domestication
was not a process by which humans
changed cats but one in which cats changed
humans. He had completed drafts of several
poems when federal agents burst into his
motel-room in that sudden bursting-
federal-agent way and arrested him.
He reminded them that it was unprofessional
of them to laugh at his poems.
Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom