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How to recognize a poet

If you write poetry and no one reads it, is it still a poem? What if no one likes it?

Gets it?

Shares it?

What if it’s never published?

Never praised?

Is it still a poem?

How — really — does one recognize a poet?

Is the title earned? Learned?

I admit —

I am a reluctant poet.

Reluctant, not because I don’t enjoy weaving short thoughtful phrases together and calling it poetry, and not because I don’t enjoy reading short thoughtful phrases woven together by others

but mostly because I am not 100% sure how to recognize a poem.

And I am not 100% sure I am a poet.

Poetry confuses me. It makes me insecure.

I doubt it. I judge it. In a way I don’t judge novels or articles or essays.

When I read poetry, I am often left confused.

When I write poetry, I am overly critical. Hungry for approval and acknowledgment.

Is it the writer in me, I wonder, that is anxious and unsure?

Or is it the human?

There was a time when I thought I knew poetry. When I thought that poetry was as simple as alliteration

alliteration

as simple as limericks … as quatrains … as rhyme.

I was in third grade and poetry was the unit during Language Arts.

We created a poetry book — I still have it. It’s bound in wallpaper and decorated with a rainbow colored pride known only by nine year old girls and confident gay activists.

poetry book

And I am moved by the poet I was then.

I am struck by how I saw the world when I was a poet, and I am envious of the girl who strung together lavish gibberish and confidently presented it as verse.

Oh, how the words flowed then…

/

walking down the stairs

holding tight to the staircase

taking your first step

Your parents at the bottom

finally your (sic) down the stairs.

/

In 1983, under the instruction and guidance of Mrs. Wald, I wrote a 12-page, wallpaper-bound book of poetry.

The pieces vary in length and in depth.

They cover topics that range from my childhood home to the mountains of Japan.

They make perfect sense and no sense at all.

Some rhyme, some reference people I no longer remember.

30 years later, I read this book of poetry and I am moved.

Does that make me a poet?

Is that enough?

I say it is.

It’s enough.

Not enough for contests or Ph.D.s or prizes, that’s for certain.

But enough to offer me the confidence

to write another poem

tomorrow.

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