Something I've Said-- "Career Poet" is an Oxymoron

From a blog post dated January 16, 2006:

Career Poet is an Oxymoron

I’ve been in and out of conversations lately, but this idea of a “career poet” seems silly to me. 

Even if you work in academia, try to win awards to boost your resume, etc. etc. I don’t think you can be a career poet. I think you can have a career with a university. I think awards and books may help your success there, but I think career poet is like saying career gardener or career hospice worker or career monk.

I don’t want confuse poetry with religion but I also believe art is a way of life, not a means to an end.

We’re such a small group of people. Sometimes I get this image of poets handing out five-year, ten and twenty-year pins. Sometimes we lose track of what’s being written and instead focus on whose been around the longest. 
Oh, we forgot Marge in accounting, she’s been around forever, better get her something at the annual awards banquet

I guess this is why I was excited to learn that 3 of the National Book Awards for poetry this year were from “new” poets. Of course, the word “new” is quote. Just like “overnight success” – is it ever really overnight? Yes, if overnight was the last fifteen years of my life.

I’m a bit all over the place, but it’s so easy to get caught up in the “extras” of poetry and lose track of the poems and why we started writing poetry. I know when I wrote my first poem I wasn’t thinking, "Next stop, Pushcart!” I hadn’t even known of this world where we line up books top to bottom trying to figure out which is best, which deserves the gold circle on the cover. It’s so subjective. It’s luck and timing. It’s an editor having a good day and picking up your poem and changing your life. But what changes? Not you. Not the poem.

I think there is no such thing as career poets, just poets who want to do well and be validated for their work. And if they teach while they write, then they are poets with full-time jobs, or academic careers. But we all started writing poetry because we couldn’t help but do it and if we could, we would have cured ourselves by it by now. 

Really, when it comes down to it, I just want to keep outdoing myself. I want my next poem to be better than my last one, I want to look down at the page and surprise myself with what was in my head.

I want the llama out the taxicab window. I want the raincoat covered in musical notes. I want sit down with myself at a fancy table on the beach and toast the ocean with a glass of water. This drink, this poem, it’s all from something bigger.



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