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So You Want To Be A Poet...

by



BEING A POET HAS NEVER BEEN MORE POPULAR than it is right now. Whether you’re looking for financial success, social popularity, romantic involvement, or just a rewarding part-time hobby, poetry offers not only handsome cash prizes, in the form of hefty advances, publisher’s perks, and royalties, but also unprecedented prestige in the community.

You’ll get streets named after you; scholarly movements will be devoted to the study and analysis of your work.

You’ll be quoted in the papers, and you’ll be taken seriously at the neighborhood bar.

So why not start now?

Here are a few things to remember which will make it easier to enter the exciting world of poetry:

1) Something to Write On.

A notebook, your birth certificate, any old piece of paper lying around will do for early drafts. As you gain experience, you’ll need computers and copying machines, but start slow.

2) Pens.

No poet is without a good assortment of pens.

3) Shave.

Or, if you already shave, stop. If you don’t have a beard, look around a little. Everybody has something they could shave. You’ll need to shock your system and simultanesouly serve notice on friends that you’ve changed. Don’t tell anyone why at first. Wait until you hit it big to spill the beans; while everyone loves a successful poet, nobody can tolerate struggling beginners.
4) Quit Your Job.

You won’t have time for it anyway, and you’ll soon be making so much money you’ll scoff at the nine-to-five rat race.

5) Give your money to the poor.

As soon as you do this, you’ll be poor, so the cycle starts over again. Poets need to understand process.

6) Stop eating.

After all, you won’t have any money. You’ll enjoy greater range of imagination once you get away from the daily rigamarole of going to work, making dinner, etc. Anything you can do to interrupt your comfortable schedule is going to help.

7) Change lovers.

This one gets complicated. If you don’t have a lover, you’ll need one, because you’re going to want to write elegies, paeans, and the like. If you do have a lover, you’ll at least have to break up with them, because right now you need to give and receive pain. While single, (also if married or committed to someone) you’ll want to develop unhealthy infatuations with impossible objects of desire, as this will sharpen your angst and sense of overall despair. Futility is your friend. If you’re straight, you might think about “going the other way.” If you’re anything but straight, you are at a competitive advantage. This is especially true for lesbians, as they are known to be “bookish” and “expressive” and both these qualities are in demand among poets. Remember, it’s not as important to be edgy and well-read as it is to appear that way.

8) Alienate yourself.

You’ve abandoned your lover and taken up with someone inappropriate. Now, it’s time to tell your parents and siblings your true feelings. A good way to do this is in a self-published chapbook. Vent unashamedly about childhood traumas; the big brother who taught you how to “shine your pole,” or the sister who used to hit you with an ironing pin. Poetry is drama. A loud, crude uncle? A sadistic aunt or overbearing, know-it-all little sister? Jackpot! If an older relative ever got you drunk, you’re already on page one. Work small incidents up into big ones. Stew over long-forgotten slights. Revive feuds.

9) Develop neuroses.

If you’re not a little obsessive over just about everything, you’re not going to be much of a poet. You can’t plumb the true depths of human experience (i.e. misery) until you can spoil someone’s birthday party with your long and involved explanation of why “nothing ever seems to work out” in your life, or why everyone misunderstands you. No matter how patient and understanding people are, if you’re persistent enough, you can turn them against you. Poets have no friends, only subject matter. Be heartless.

10) Read, read, read.

Newspapers, phone books, menus; whatever happens to be in front of you. Don’t bother with reading a lot of poetry; it will only confuse and depress you. Remember, poetry is about expression, not education. If you can scream when you step on a nail, you’re halfway there. It’s just a matter of scrambling your thoughts. Which is where all the reading comes in. Read and copy with special care, taking note of illogical constructions, grammatical anomalies and simple-minded pleas.

11) Nurse an addiction.

Crack cocaine, heroin, pain pills, alcohol, sex, gambling; anything unhealthy which leads to mania will do. Uncontrolled behavior makes for more interesting poems. Avoid people who take things too seriously. Go with the flow. Let your kite-string out, spend time fishing, go to circuses and carnivals, eat too much candy, smoke cigarettes continuously, drink absinthe with depressed existentialists, linger in doorways,

Now You’re A Poet!

The world is beating your door down. Let them in, but not everyone. Poets don’t make good friends, so cultivate relationships with people who don’t share your gift. Be aloof, mysterious and demanding. Call groceries and order foods you don’t know how to cook, then prevail upon your more practical friends to make the food tasty. Write encomiae about the meals. Drink too much wine. Run off with the cook. Flirt with waitresses—they can tell you’re special—whenever possible get others to buy your food and drinks, but never accept anything cheap. You’re a poet! Use it.


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About Crawdad Nelson


I have been a laborer, writer, editor, teacher and tutor. I was granted a poetic license at a memorable reading at St. Anthony's Hall, Mendocino, in 1987. I received Pushcart nominations in the early 90s, but nothing ever came of it. I used to read the Pushcart anthology cover to cover anyway. I've won some cash awards for both poetry and essays. I...read more published frequently in the 90s, not as much lately. I try to keep it brief and accurate.

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