Being asked to write about myself as a poet was initially a terrible idea. But it wasn’t my idea which is why I rebelled. Then it was great because I recognized I put up obstacles to discussing who I am as Novelist versus Editor versus Poet. It’s the same thing. I’m the same person. There is no air or pretension or label to subscribe to. It’s just about words and falling in love with them the same way I fall over and over again for my partner and feel deeply affectionate and grateful for my gorgeous friends and family.
In poetry I get to talk about moments differently than in fiction or nonfiction. For example, I was drinking at a dive near my house in New Orleans and wrote this in my head while shuffling home:
I’ve been walking through the neighborhood
like a torn-up cigarette smoker
seeking breath in the humid dark.
Got an awful knee and a questionable heart,
bang-banging gravel like it made me mad in child history.
Whatever that is.
(excerpt, I’m An Old Man Looking Back)
In prose I take the benefit of simile and sometimes metaphor from this influence of poetry, of letting go of conventional thought structure. But it isn’t the same experience. I was corresponding with a magazine editor yesterday and basically what we came up with was, in poetry, the notion of living in the margins as a poet is incomplete. And it’s allowed itself to remain this near-dead creative ideal even though it’s everywhere. I think what removes the impact of poetry and impedes its forward motion is the stereotype that it is for so few. And then on top of this supposition, burgeoning poets write to fit in this mold rather than break away from it by telling their own stories. It’s almost like they’re trained this way.
I was a guest speaker at a Gulf Coast writing conference around 2004-2005. I approached the organizer of the entire thing and told him the poetry being read there seemed stuffy and academic. He looked at me with disgust for a minute. He said, “What do you know? You’re five years old and don’t know anything.” I shrugged and headed toward my room for my presentation. He called me back. One of my performance poet friends beside me whispered to ignore him. But I turned around. He was smiling and said something I won’t forget. “You’re probably right though.”
So, whatever that meant, what it means is there is true conflict around poetry and the understanding of poetry and the writing of it. All to the point it needs to be forgiven for its being created in the modern world as some newly un-celebrated thing.
Celebrate myself as a poet? I was asked to write. Sure.
I get to write lines like I was in a hostel hurting for this loudness, a year back,
crumbled like bleu cheese over the frozen salad of my life and not fear I’m turning heads inappropriately as if I were trying to say the same thing in a story or fiction chapter. If I were to say I was lonely and tucked into the fetal position because I was scared of New York City as I had then forgotten it when I was, in fact, at a hostel, wanting to find my old cafes there and write and make friends, I’d have to say it in paragraphs with specificity and not both kind and brief illusion.
The world we live in as poets…and we are all poets…is free and good and does not belong to me or my understanding. Poetry lets us dance in the middle of words and we are exempt from apology as we write it. And I’m not suggesting poets should expect a resurgence of fame and social expectation as they did decades ago, centuries ago. But they deserve it.
About the Post Author:
Damon Ferrell Marbut is a Southern novelist and poet living in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is author of the coming-of-age novel Awake in the Mad World and the poetry collection Little Human Accidents: Chaos Poems From The Brink. His work has been featured in over 40 blogs, journals, reviews and textbooks.
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