I've beat this saying to death. I've joked about it and denied three times my loyalties to Ginsberg, Keats, and Brautigan. People occasionally refer to me as a poet and it always catches me off guard, like they're saying I have a goiter or saying I don't look like I'm 52 (I do). It took me long enough to convince myself I was a writer, and even longer to call myself one.
I think I have label issues.
It has something to do with my perception of masculinity, which I realize is totally stupid. Totally. But that's what some of the hangup is.
I had a great discussion with a friend and his wife over dinner a couple of weeks ago. He mentioned that some primitive cultures believe there are actually 5 genders: Masculine, Masculine-Feminine, Neutral, Feminine, and Feminine Masculine. Masculine Feminine included men who had feminine qualities about them like compassion, social needs/skills that are more like women than men, artistic types and the like. Feminine-Masculine would be women who also have male tendencies, including competitiveness, sports, and other things.
This was kind of mind bending to me. When I boldly proclaimed that I would fit into the Masculine category, my friend just kind of laughed. "No, you're definitely Masculine-Feminine." He went on to say that most men would probably fit into this category if you really thought about it. I told him I fish, camp, love the outdoors, love sports, etc. But, when I thought about it a little more objectively, I jokingly said that any man that writes poetry is probably immediately classifiable as Masculine-Feminine. You can't do one without being the other. My friend laughed and agreed.
I need to get over these issues.
It brought to light how people perceive me. The label I give myself sometimes is different than what people think. I've become more comfortable with not caring what people think. (Part of this comes with being over 50, and is not always a good quality, mind you.) I have always enjoyed reading poetry, in part because it is writing in it's purest form. Simple, concise, and beautiful.
When I first started hearing it spoken and seeing it written in my writing workshop, I was intrigued. What would it take to write like that? Could I ever write like Mario, and Krisina, and Alita, and Karo, and Kris, and Johanna, and, Kathy and more recently, Katharine and Ellen? Their styles were as different as the dozens of writing genres out there today. Some were concrete and real, others were flowery and surreal, some funny and some numbingly sad.
I've come a long way, with the help of friends.
But mostly, it was Mario's influence who got me to "go there" and try my hand at it. The first few were not very good, but with some work, one of them came out good enough to be accepted by Verse Wisconsin. I can say without a doubt that this short poem being accepted served to spur both my interest in writing more and better poetry and, more importantly perhaps, the interest in SUBMITTING my work. While writing is great, and it can be therapeutic, it's another thing altogether to get it out to the world. Since that first poem, publication has taken on a new focus for me. I still write for love of it, and I want to continue to improve, but I also have a new goal in mind. To get it seen. I seem to be having decent success with it, which might be telling me something.
I've actually set a goal for my next published book to be a poetry collection. Over the past 4 years or so, I've built quite a collection, and would really like to get all of them compiled into a book. I intend to talk to my publisher about these intentions once my Dirty Shirt book is done. It will be a nice transition into book 3. It'll stretch me and I feel like it's where I want to go next. It's a little like Clapton the rock star wanting to do a strictly blues album.
At one point, I was actually going to have every chapter of Dirty Shirt start with a poem. I kaboshed that idea about 8 poems into it, because I was having a hard time with flow. (And they weren't terribly good.) The good side of that is I now have some abandoned BWCA poems that I don't know what to do with. So I'll leave you with a poem.
Because I am a poet.
The Brothers Four by Jim Landwehr
Four of us bound by family and blood
Raised by a mother with love and prayers
As different as we are and aren’t
We share a passion for woods and water
Like those of the generation before and after
We set out together to canoe and fish
Because one day we will be one less
And one less
And one less
And one less