Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Mind of a Poet: ME


I write poems, and other things.  Some say that makes me a poet.  

But being a poet is less about the job as it is an outlook, and that outlook is less about what you do, as why you do it, and how you do it.   A poet is born like anyone else, but through their experiences, and discoveries, and epiphanies, they learn how to express themselves in ways that reveal things that others might not see.   But they are also, usually, expressing something from their soul, their inner self if you prefer, that leaves them naked before the viewer/reader.   

"Art is a mystery. A mystery is something immeasurable.In so far as every child and woman and man may be immeasurable, art is the mystery of every man and woman and child. an art; and artists...are human beings.  As a human being stands, so a human being is...." E.E. Cummings

So how do I know I am poet?  I don’t yet altogether know.   I’ve had people tell me I am a good poet, and have written over 3000 poems, and have had 18 books published, either by others, or myself.

I was born in 1963 of a rape.  I was adopted by and then raised by ultra-perfectionists who were both very strict and demanding.   I was given a world-view, and was told when to think, when to speak.   But I knew my adoptive parents loved me, despite the iron hand, and while I was always an outsider, having that solid foundation, but outsider view, allowed me to observe the world, in a kind of silence that fermented the poetry inside me.

"Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, squares, and the like, but for the human emotions. If one has a mind which inclines to magic rather than science, one will prefer to speak of these equations as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite."  Ezra Pound

I remember staring up at the clouds going overhead and realizing not how fluffy they were, but how lyrical and awesome it would be to hop from one to another.   I remember never being alone, despite no humans being present, as I stared into space.   I was quiet and shy, but I was always full of thoughts.   I was never bored, ever.

"One discards rhyme, not because one is incapable of rhyming neat, fleet, sweet, meet, treat, eat, feet but because there are certain emotions or energies which are nor represented by the over-familiar devices or patterns."  Ezra Pound

A poet simmers, and poets may brew, but from what I’ve experienced and what I’ve observed in other poets, what a poet is, is something that can’t be manufactured, but happens spontaneously.  Many great poems are written by masters of the word, who are writers but probably not “poets”.   I am not suggesting that their work isn’t as good as those who self declare themselves to be poets.   A poet is simply a person who labels themselves to be an observer and recorder of events, moments and ideas, and many choose to do so in a form that is less detailed than prose, less rhyme devoted than music, and with the poet being less interested in popular approval.  (If society sanctions your art through financial support, that is the purchase, of your work, there are almost no self-supporting poets.) But throughout history the poet has remained the observer and the memory of the society.   And therefore, however much we are forgotten, the poets never forget.


People who buy music with completely arid lyrics, without a hint of life about it, with sing song rhythm and absolutely childish rhyme look down upon books of poetry.   They do so because poetry has come from two sources, the childish rhymes of our childhood, and the academia writers who have tried to elevate it so high as to be out of reach of the common person.    When people think of poetry, they think of nursery rhymes, they don’t think of the fact that songs are poetry, they don’t think that commercials they hear every day are poetry, they don’t look at greeting cards as poetry.   But it is.  So we have this disconnect between the world’s perception of poetry and what it is, and so we should ask why.  More Importantly, they need to go beyond the perception and challenge it to say, “Who cares about perception?”.

" The man of understanding can no more sit quiet and resigned while his country lets literature decay than a good doctor could sit quiet and contented while some ignorant child was infecting itself with tuberculosis under the impression that it was merely eating jam tarts."  Ezra Pound

I write poetry of many forms, genres and styles.   I do my best to ignore form, genre and style.   I believe that the point of poetry is to capture moments, ideas, and emotions in words, and the only way to do that effectively is by ignoring every convention that is recognizable.    That makes my work ignored, derided and considered to be not serious.   And I don’t care.  I don’t care about perception.  I care that what I’ve written being good, and that what I’ve written is what I’ve intended to be there upon the page.

I do write epic poetry.   Epic poetry has a number of different definitions but it evokes moments of the past, tells straight forwards stories, is less emo, less defined by the individual speaker in the poem, and is generally telling a story about a moment in history or fantasy that is memorable, deserves to be told, and is written in such a way that deserves to be read aloud, or illustrated with paintings or drawings.    But even there, what is epic for one person may be boring for another.   I marvel at battles and horses and knights, others likely do not.   So perceptions of what I write do amount to something in that, if the subject matter doesn’t appeal, and it is poetry, and the buyer hates poetry and doesn’t like the subject matter, there won’t be a sale.

But, as any creative person learns, every thing we do matters.   Every great work we create, whether read by one or one hundred, matters.   I’ve been told that various poems of mine have changed people’s lives.   I do not know if that is true.   But if it is true, that is a great compliment.   I was told that a poem I wrote about the massacre of Jews in Babi Yar Ukraine was part of a required reading for a Holocaust class in a European classroom in College.   That is high praise, and I am very moved by that.   So you never know what you might do by your work, by doing it.   So I am saying, regardless of perceptions by others, it is important to DO it.   Not just think about doing it.

Such is the role of poetry. It unveils, in the strict sense of the word. It lays bare, under a light which shakes off torpor, the surprising things which surround us and which our senses record mechanically.”  Jean Cocteau

I’ve tried to, in the previous two editions of this column to describe what I do, as a poet, and what I think poetry is.    So I don’t write about pretty pink unicorns and I don’t write about things that don’t move me.   I am not a poet that everyone thinks of when they think Poetry.   So why call myself a “Poet” then?   What else is there?   Writer is too general.  I write yes but I don’t write much prose, and I don’t do scripts or plays.   What I do is write poetry, even when and IF I write in other forms.    My story in Sasquatch is less a straight forward narrative than a description in 5 pages or so of why humans see Sasquatch and Yeti when we look into the woods.   When I believe in it isn’t the point, but, the story was written in a form that was roundly well received, but for an anti Green libertarian who hated it.   (23 reviews good, 1 bad, and I remember the bad one, yes I am a bit focused on the negative).   It was poetry, however it was perceived.   And as such, I am a poet, however my work is read by whoever reads it.  

completely dare
be beautiful

e.e. cummings

And that takes me to another thought …  The old adage of a tree falling in the woods, does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it… rings true for a poet especially because, if no one reads our words or hears them, do they matter?   At one point in my writing I was writing over 80 hours a week, and trying to live and work in the real world outside of that.   I slept little, and became almost fixated upon working my way into either an early grave or finding success.   However, I failed at both, I am alive, and found no success.  So I cannot tell you more about what to try to get published or become successful, I have no idea what the answer is.

Beyond writing, and being published, how does a creative person get their ideas?  

I believe that is a question with a variety of answers.   But there are no single answers for you, I am sorry to say.   Each creative talent is a reservoir of influences, memories, ideas, from the past, from life experiences, and talents that are born in them, that they draw upon and use.   So first we have to agree that no one knows how much or in what way the talent will bloom and grow.   Second, we can only hope it grows and reaches its fullest potential.

Ideas come from a creator being struck by some new idea.  Ideas come from an old idea not having worked and the creative talent wishing to try their own hand at doing it better. Ideas come from liking something so much the creator wishes to revisit that familiar and happy place by doing, either in homage or simply by a desire to do it as a result of a fascination with the original.  Ideas come from life experiences or learning, and a desire to create something that reflects that.  

All and all, we are faced with a world that is open to ideas, but only purely open to it in the form of fiction.    A poet is more free than others to explore, because most people see poets as gentle, soft, mopey teddy bears, but, our role in culture is to ask questions, to challenge norms, to poke at the ‘delicato corpore’ of this mammoth beast of culture.  And I enjoy my job doing so.


SO I am a male.  But I am a poet.  So I have advice for males wishing to be a poet.  So you want to be a poet?  Really?  Why?  What you may want to be is popular, thought clever, sexy, but what you could really be thought of is emo, self-centered, weak, or gay… because in Western society, society expects men to keep their emotions inside.  So you will offer readers of your work a chance to judge you, for simply being what you are.   But do not worry.  If you are a poet, you’ll know. 

“A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.” Jean Cocteau

It will show.   You don’t set out to be a poet, being a poet expresses itself in your life, in your writing in your work.  I kept trying to be an historian.  I took many classes, I had a high IQ so I was told I should be a scholar, but my writing was never scholarly. I lived between three worlds at that time.  I lived in and worked in the world of the scholar in academia who tries to think rationally.  I lived in the real world, where people try to earn money and be happy or buy stuff or be horny.   And I lived in the world between them, where I observed everything as an outsider, and recorded it, for no reason but for the fact, that I was a poet.

“A poet's autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote.” Yevgeny Yevtushenko

So if you are trying to be a poet, it might be a sign that you are a writer trying too hard to write poetry, because a poet bubbles with poetry.  It just happens, it is a natural reaction to what you are seeing around you, what you are experiencing, who you are and who the world is around you.  I am not saying you are not a poet if, or you are a poet if you… I am saying you know if you are a poet.  That is all.

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”  Leonard Cohen

What?  You still want to be a poet?  Well then you need to understand that rather than vomiting out your emotions onto the page like people think a poet does, you need to channel your feelings into your words, and use precision to make those words powerful, instead a splattered shot of shotgun of words.

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”  T.S. Eliot

This is all said in love and hope that anyone wanting to become a poet will understand that being one, is 1) not easy, 2) not for everyone, 3) not something you just decided to do, and 4) maybe less for you than might otherwise have thought.  But if you do choose to become a poet, I wish you good poetry, and a great life to feed your words.


Remember up there a bit, where I said I was in academia? Yes I was. I received college degrees and taught in university. But, I didn’t like it.  You see, I don’t have an interest in making you understand, and, I do not have a stake in your understanding of what I am saying.  However, I have a very great interest in exposing you to events and ideas that I consider important.   Teaching history and political science in college and humanities to younger students was rewarding, somewhat, but, for me, it was a lot of energy devoted to teaching ideas and facts that people didn’t care about.   I preferred to rather wrap ideas in words, and events in fascinating details, to encourage people to read further.   Teaching is great, and I admire those who do it, but for me, my patience for doing so was very limited, and my interest, well it was far lower than my patience.  So I teach now but in my own way, I try to entertain while exposing people to information that is important.

God bless me, for I might have sinned.  But I will keep trying.

EMOTIONS: The Pain and Joy of words of a poet.

When aimed right a poet will be able to write about anything using his or her life events and emotions as fuel for the words they write upon the page.   As someone with a 14 year or so struggle with what has turned out to be a major disease that has been misdiagnosed for much of that time, I’ve earned, I think, the right to write some deeply dark poetry.   However, as someone aware of the exhaustion factor in readers, who want a balance in what they read, you have to find the good as well as the bad to share with them.   

So when life is hard, you do write using that pain.   But, in what is therapeutic for you, you search for the positives as well, or that darkness that you write is just you bleeding onto paper.   Eventually others become bored of it, and you burn out the purpose of writing.   The channeling of emotions into non-pure or non-direct emotions does take work.   A person who has been wrongly dumped in a relationship rightly wishes to write hateful words about the ex-lover.  But pages and pages of it do nothing for the reader, the writer, nor for the prospects of publication.   So, write a story or poem of a broken heart event, and use that pain.   Then, instead of lingering in it, write a sequel of where you hope to be, writing a poem of finding love.   That is, you write, if not for the readers, or possible publishing, FOR YOURSELF.  

The balance between Pain and Sorrow, Joy and Happiness is important in anyone’s life.   But a poet needs to realize that his ability to channel and aim his emotions onto paper can help him or her, help others, and write crushingly good poems torn from life.


I wrote a book called Winter Kill, and it is fabulously illustrated by Simon Huelbeck and Mark Orluck.  It is 12 dollars for color art, and it is my autobiography.   I mention it here because of all the times I talk about channeling words, here is an example of taking an entire, and I mean ENTIRE life, and turning it into a story.   I am not entirely trying to promote it here, it is of course a matter of taste if you like poetry, but the people who read it and got back to, each told me it was the greatest thing they have ever read in their entire life.   So I suspect it is good.   I should note that, despite paying for people to proofread the work because I was dealing with my mother’s death, it has about 5 errors.   I apologize that they reached print.   There are reasons these things happen, but it is not an excuse.  


Think?  Feel?  Well at the very least if I write it is evidence that I am someone who can read, and that I can put a sentence together, now and then.  I have been asked by people “how do I become a better poet?”.  I tell them, by writing poems and reading.   I realize this remarkably straight-forward and simple sounding but it isn’t.  If you don’t write all the time you do not practice and learn your craft.  If you do not read you do not expose your mind to fuel for your mind to grow.   So read and write, and you will grow as a poet.


So now, after explaining what a poet is, here is what a poet is not?   A poet is not any different than any other writer in that he or she puts words to paper.   Whether they work or not, calling him or herself a poet does not, by any means, make the words good.  So then you might wonder how a poem from a poet measures differently than from someone who doesn’t call what they consider themselves to be a poet.  You might wonder if a poet can tell a difference between a poem written by a common person, a writer who doesn’t call their calling to be a poet, and that by a poet.   My answer is simple, No.   The deeper answer is this, No, and if you worry about that too much you need to go take a giant shit.  You have issues that go beyond intellectual thought and delve deeply into OCD and other problem areas.


I get asked to write poems for people a lot, and generally they don’t get the kind of poem they are looking for.   The reason for that is quite simple.   I am not a poem monkey.   I don’t write upon command and if they request me to write, I might, but the result is what it is.  Satisfaction is not guaranteed.   However, I’ve had people say that my work, upon command, is very good, that doesn’t always equate them getting what they’d hope.  For the most part, let me suggest, if you want a greeting card poem, go buy a card.  If you want a piece of my heart, then tell me what you want.   There is a difference.


I don’t read other people’s poems, due to fear of absorbing their work.  I only read dead people and famously dead people because if you are going to absorb, make it a classic author or poet.    So I don’t want ANYONE to send me their DAMN poems.    I say this in love.  I am not trying to suggest I am better than anyone else.  I am simply saying I am trying to avoid accusations of plagiarism because I know it happens.  The only time I’ve been accused, it was from a woman in a southern state who accused me of reading her poems that she had not yet written.  She said I had somehow read her mind and stolen her titles for her poems.    She had also said I was able to enter her dreams and manipulate her dreams so that she was forced to be in love with me.   So of course I took this quite seriously.

And blocked her.

photo taken by Jeremy Clifft, copyright shared with me for use.

My mother refused to read the graphic novel Maus because it was a comic book and she thought that all comic books were stupid.

In the 1970s I met Christians who refused to believe that there was music that was both in the genre of rock and praised Jesus and was made by Christians.   They believed that rock and roll was “of the devil”.   Rock and Roll was therefore of only one kind, and that was secular.

I have met artists who think poetry is boring or worse, that it is not art.   And they refuse to read it.  They think it is beneath them to read it.

But whatever the person’s intelligence, or outlook, religious belief, or creative talents, art is art.   Format and genre, style and substance, are all part of the whole.   I am not talented in drawing or painting, although at one time I might have had more talent in those areas.   But where words are concerned, while I do write prose, and I can lay out sequential scripts, it is that my words flow easily from my soul as poetry more so than either prose or in sequential scripts.

The point of what we do as artists, of image, of word, of sound, of clay or rock, is to present an image or idea and make the viewer, reader, listener, or audience experience something different.   If what we do does not do that, there is a part of what we’ve done that is missing.   To comfort or bring discomfort is great, but bring a new thought is the ideal.

I’ve met artists who are nearly functionally illiterate.   But those artists, without an ability to write have art that is beyond truth, beyond intelligence and beyond knowledge, and their art is absolute perfection.   However, I’ve met poets who do not understand punctuation and that is not nearly the same.  Poets should be aware of the conventions before they abandon them.   We all make mistakes, of that I am surely aware, but to be blind to punctuation and grammar is to risk being misunderstood, when the point of poetry is to deliver truth.

Who is the creative talent?   I believe we are all creative inside.   I do not believe that we are all equally creative, or similarly creative inside.    I am a Christian, and, I believe in a powerful God.  My belief is, we are given the desire to create, either through procreation, art, desire to build and design architecture, even to change the way things look in the world we live, to reflect the role of God.  We are created in the image of God.  God created.  We seek to create.   If you disagree that is fine.  I am not going to debate, it isn’t my point, I simply see everyone as having the ability to add to the world through the abilities they have, and I believe we are all given gifts to create.

We do not all desire to create equally.   That is the issue that challenges so many.   People fear having their work being seen.   They do not want to have their product being judged.  They do not wish to have a debate about the quality of their song, sculpture, poem, comic, painting, or the architecture of the building.    But we are born to create.   And that is our destiny. We are meant to create.   And I believe it is what we are supposed to be doing.

“Under the sword lifted high
There is hell making you tremble:
But go ahead,
And you have the land of bliss.”

Miyamoto Musashi

So you write but you don’t share it. So you paint but don’t want people to see it. So you throw clay on the wheel, but no one has seen the results but you.  Then why do you do it?  You can tell me for your own edification.  You can say for your own improvement, with an eye to eventual sharing with others.  But mostly, I am betting, you don’t feel confident in the result.  I understand that.  

For years I did that and ended up never improving, I wrote for myself, and would constantly throw away my work when done.   I also kept journals, and would throw them away as well, in particular when someone I loved passed away.  It was only when I wrote for others that my work began to grow in scope and energy.   I began to dare, and as I shared with others my ability to delve into my soul grew.

But after I watched my brother laying in a hospital bed from his heart attack and realized I’d done very little with my life, I decided I had to try to do the poetry that burned in me, for others.   And that sword lifted high, hell was making me tremble, but when I sent it out, and the sword was cast down and swung, it was indeed the land of bliss.   Not every work I’ve done is good.  Not every poem that has been written is worth being published.   I am not telling you that every thing you’ve ever done deserves an audience.   But if you never show anything to anyone, how will you ever know?

So where do you go?  How do you get published?  How do you get seen? Found? Discovered?  I have been published and I have self published.   I have been roundly savaged by critics and editors and I have been praised and given great critical response to my work.   You, the creative talent, are no longer living in a world that the response to your work is controlled by few publishers, few shops, few galleries.   You can release your work through the internet, you can create an audience through a vast number of new venues.   And, you needn’t aim at becoming wealthy.   There are different aims of art.  Becoming wealthy is fine, it would be delightfully awesome to be able to have so much money as to support yourself, but few are that able.   Even the talented, even the greatly talented, often have to do real life work to support themselves.

I’ve sold far more work in person than online, or through bookstores.   I have, however, social anxiety disorder.   I am not comfortable in large groups.   I don’t much even enjoy meeting strangers.   But, in person I am able to explain what my books are about, and then, you might buy them.  My books are my legacy.   Life is fleeting.  My books will survive me.  I suggest if you want to know me, or my work, you seek them out.  

"my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you're not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.
Does this sound dismal? It isn't.
It's the most wonderful life on earth.
Or so I feel."
ee cummings

I like a lot of poets

Most of them are male. Many are white, and I don't apologize for their content, their interests, and while there are these, there are tons more still.  I put them here because in a 5000 word article about poetry I think it is important to give people an idea of what you read.  

The US Poets

                1- William Carlos Williams   2- Edgar Allan Poe   3- Ezra Pound     4- e.e. cummings

The UK poets

        1- Lord Byron   2- Percy Bysshe Shelley 3- Edmund Spenser 4- T.S. Eliot  4- Lord Tennyson
        (TS Eliot is actually of American birth, and British nationality by choice.)

The French Poets

           1- Paul Verlaine                  2- Arthur Rimbaud               3- Charles Baudelaire

The Ancient Roman and Greek poets

       1- Homer of Greece          2-  Ovid of Rome        3- Virgil of Rome       4- Archilochus of Greece

The Asian Poets

               1- Yukio Mishima  2- Sei Shonagon  3- Lady Mirasaki Shikibu  4- Lin Zhao  5- Basho

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