Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Advice for Aging Poets

Definition: An aging poet is any poet conscious of his or her aging. Note: It is often appropriate to insert "anxiously" before "conscious."  Within reason, there is no minimum or maximum age. For instance, a 20-year-old poet might be anxiously conscious of aging, and an 85-year-old poet may anxiously regret never having achieved ambition x.

1. Never worry about your place in [American, English, Turkish, West Coast, Pacific Islander, Southern, Russian, West Virginian, New York, Sydney, Canadian Plains, etc.] Poetry. If you have one, it's an illusion, or you're a fraud, or both. If you don't have one, you and your poetry are probably the better for it.

2. Write to surprise yourself.

3. If other poets are sucking up to you, for any reason, run away.  If you are a small-press publisher or a poetry editor or the director of an MFA program as well as a poet, you know the reason.

4. What have you always liked about writing poetry? Write from that pleasure.

5. If you or someone else considers you to be "the voice" of anything or any place--nature, used tires, Belgium, a generation, a movement, drunken sailors--resign the post immediately.  If you aspire to be "the voice" of anything or any place, stop.

6. If no one wants to publish your latest book, publish it yourself--or don't publish it. To hell with contests, publishers, critics, and editors*: the Poetry Biz isn't poetry.  If God had wanted  publishers, poetry clubs, regional cliques, academic cliques, magazine-cliques, conferences, and so on, to remain in power, God wouldn't have allowed the Internet, which is the revenge of William Blake and many more.  Also remember what Emily Dickinson wrote: "publication is the auction of the mind."  Look, almost all of us like publication. But keep it real.

7. Behave generously toward all other poets (and writers and readers) unless they misbehave, in which case simply ignore them. "Misbehave" simply means that a poet goes out of his or her way to disrespect you, for example.

8. Write every day, other worthy obligations permitting.

9. Stop giving poetry readings unless a) they pay and you need the money, b) you really seem to need the attention, c) you genuinely enjoy reading, and/or d) you can't get laid by any other means**.  P.S. Always read for fewer minutes than you are allotted.

10. Get in touch with your inner obscurity.

11. Write the very best poetry that [your name here] is going to write.

12. If you or anyone else speaks or writes about "the state of poetry," please know that right away, five minutes later, a year later, or a decade later (and so on) you or the other person will be proved wrong.  Just think of those clowns who ridiculed Keats or the ones who ignored Langston Hughes or the ones who never heard of Emily Dickinson as they surveyed the literary scene. But it's irresistible sometimes to opine about the state of poetry, and and it can be fun. 

12A. As you weren't born yesterday, evidently, you may have seen this coming: don't follow the advice of other aging poets, unless you already happen to agree with it, or unless the poet is one of two poetry sages known to live in North Carolina.***

* excepting the one or two people you really trust to tell you what's wrong with this or that poem, line, etc.

** this is a joke; mostly

*** this is not a joke; mostly
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