As such, poets are sometimes able to come back and tell us “much about reality.”

Only poets read contemporary poetry books, and only poets go to poetry readings. If I become a poet, will I be entering an erudite circle of writers whose only praise comes from others in that circle? I want to reach people, but how can I if nobody reads my poems, except other poets who will criticize anything I do wrong and imitate anything I do right?!  I began my first semester in a prestigious MFA program for poetry this semester, but I’m thinking I should switch genres. Help me please.  
— T.W.

Do it. Yes, switch genres, because I get the impression that you are not driven by the idealism that drives most poets, and if you are running out of steam this early in the game, you will be pretty miserable later in life. Understand that I say this as an advice columnist. I want my readers to be happy and I think you will be much happier writing a novel or a screenplay because we have more tools for evaluating their success, we know how to market them better, etc., and you will ultimately receive more objective validation.

I lament losing another member of our infantry, though. Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai says that poets “are the combat soldiers, the foot soldiers, of literature and art, and of life…The only ones who get hurt and hit, and wounded and killed, are the poets.” As such, poets are sometimes able to come back and tell us “much about reality.” Poets don’t concern themselves with the fact that not many people read poetry — we are driven by possibility, the possibility that our words would right some wrong, fix some ache, bring thought to a neglected subject. And despite all our wounds, we keep going back to the front lines, because we know that with every reader who pauses over a poem, every struggling student who overhears one line and remembers it and recites it to a colleague, every time we make someone’s heart go from indifferent to sad or grateful, we are taking a step in the right direction. We can’t measure it, but we believe it.


from The Smart Set:  Word Choice

by Kristen Hoggatt

Art Credits:  The Poet by Marc Chagall; The Poet by Pablo Picasso


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4 thoughts on “As such, poets are sometimes able to come back and tell us “much about reality.”

  1. Matteo Farber says:

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