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On living the poetry

October 10, 2011

Before we start: yes, I’m aware how nauseating that title is and no, I’m not drafting a screenplay for a Julia Roberts feelgood piece.

Ok now we can be serious. In the last few months or so, I’ve heard several people use this phrase or one just like it (including me). I decided it merited a break in my criminal internet silence when a friend of mine commented on my unemployment and general idleness positively, with the wonderful (if overly generous) affirmation that ‘you’re living the poetry’.

This struck me because of just how much it didn’t strike me, if that makes sense. I don’t really understand how what I do can be termed so romantically. I do what I’ve always done. I read poems, I write poems, I talk — far too much — about poems. That’s how I’ve been passing my existence for at least the last three years. When I was writing an essay or washing the dishes, I was thinking about poems. That’s probably why my employment as a dish-washer wasn’t lengthy.

When people like my friend refer to ‘living the poetry’ like it’s a noble, all-encompassing pursuit from which things like a job and a functional adulthood are just a distraction, it prompts me to ask, so everyone isn’t living the poetry? Don’t mistake me here, I believe that poetry as a practice is ubiquitous and constant and inescapable — I really believe that nothing is not giving messages. And in an ideal world, sure I’d do nothing but read/write/talk/think poetry, 24/7. But that’s not why I don’t have a job. I’d like a job, I could really do with one. Even if I find one, I’ll still be ‘living the poetry’ because I can’t not.  That’s just the way I’m wired, and my place in the figurative dole queue isn’t about to change that (though it is likely to cease being figurative at this rate).

I guess really what I want to know here is this: do you guys live it too? Is it so unusual that I eat/sleep/breathe poems? I’ve met people who write poetry but don’t read it, or at least not contemporary collections, and my mind boggles. How does that even work?

While thinking about this post I kept coming back to one quote from Selima Hill, which Caroline posted on my Facebook almost three years back. It seems stupid not to share it, as it pretty much makes all my points for me:

 “First of all you need to be obsessed. There’s no good reason to do it, nobody wants you to do it, or gives you the time or the space. You have to do that yourself. (Try putting a sticker saying I’D RATHER BE WRITING POEMS on your car window.) Being a poet is like having an invisible partner. It isn’t easy. But you can’t live without it either. Talent is only 10 per cent. The rest is obsession.”

Lastly, you can now find three of my poems in the shiny new fifteenth issue of the wonderful > kill author! If you’re an auditory masochist you can also listen to me reading them on the site. Poets can have faces for radio too you know.

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