There is a question we must all ask ourselves as poets, even though it might not be a question that begins outright more than it is one that develops as we move through the genre. That is, what kind of poets do we want to be?
When I ask this, I don’t mean in a moral sense, or in a competitive sense. I don’t think the kind of poet you want to be is determined by your level of skill, or on your morale as a person. You can have no sense of morale and write wonderful poems that relate to other human beings on the planet. And you can have beginner level skills, compared to other poets, but still be pretty good at the craft and still have your own voice and purpose in a poem.
To argue with myself, maybe we are asking all these things with the question, “what kind of poet do I want to be?” I don’t want to narrow the question to one sole answer, but when I ask this question, what I mean is, what reputation do I want my words to give me? Perhaps, it’s shallow to think of our image as poets as a reputation, but isn’t it somewhat inevitable because of the society we live in? Our reputation, whether we know it or not, has a great impact on how we are received by others. I could be a terrible person and write pure, beautiful poems, and this will be my reputation (not my character). We can re-create ourselves on the page and become someone entirely different from our real life self. In a strange way, it seems the writer has the gift of leading a double life—and of exploring the pros and cons of different characters.
Take for example, old school poets who wrote everything in complex metaphors. They could have been dialoguing their everyday lives but we would have never known, because their poems didn’t allow us to know. Many of their poems became a puzzle for readers to decipher, break down and analyze. And what this says to me is that they wanted to be the kind of poets that flaunted their skill through their words, while telling good stories and lessons, instead of documenting their lives in current time.
And then of course, there are poets who try to communicate emotion through seemingly incoherent wordplay, and there are poets who try through very complex, but decipherable wordplay. And then there are those who tell their stories in casual language in order to incite emotion in their reader.
So, what kind of poet are you? And what kind of reputation do you want? I’ve been thinking about this myself, and struggling with choosing. It might very well be that we do not have to choose—and that we can practice each method, move through our identity as poets as we move through our identity as humans—but there is the reality that choosing can sometimes be less stressful and much more gratifying than consistent change.