There’s an idea about poetry and poets that’s a little cute, naive even, and one which often comes from people who either don’t write, people who don’t write poetry or sometimes from myth-making poets themselves.
It’s also a bit of a throwback to the Romantic poetic tradition whereby poems ‘spring forth fully formed ’ and are linked endlessly to the ‘divine.’ But it’s also an idea which is uncharitable to the poet, a reductionist idea, one which sometimes removes agency from the writer.
And so in that respect, it’s not cute. It’s insulting.
I’m talking about when poets are described as ‘mad’, ‘fragile’, ‘delicate geniuses’ who are unable to understand or even approach understanding of ‘where the words come from.’ Doing so actually risks de-humanising poets.
Contrary to the above, I believe poets are quite self-aware.
Over the last ten years I’ve been lucky enough to work with dozens and dozens of brilliant poets who know exactly what their obsessions are, their passions and the themes that haunt them. These poets know that they’re the sum of their experience and education, they know where the words come from.
We poets also know that we’re professional, that we care about our readers. We’re hard working. Not fragile. We know that we’re rational. Not mad. We know that we hold down one or two or three jobs, that we care for our families, help our communities, we know that we fight every day to have time and freedom to pursue our art, we know that we want to talk (sometimes too much!) about what we write, and where it comes from.
We know from where because we seek the answer, because we’re trying to grow as artists. We despise our ignorance because it holds us back.
Poets are not infantile mouthpieces for a cosmic force, at its mercy, waiting, hoping that it might bestow upon us some words. We’re not literary savants.
We’re on the ground, observing, living, interacting with each other and the world.
And that’s where our words come from.