Jul 21

What is "Greatness"?

21 February 2009

NYT article today in "Books" section about how poets aren't "great" anymore. Don't waste your eyesight reading the familiar whines about poetry going to hell in a handbasket and that there are JUST TOO MANY POETS because of writing programs. The NYT simply isn't looking hard enough for great poets -- perhaps not west of the Hudson. The author is way, way off if he's honestly still thinking that great poets have to be dashing, cosmopolitan, and deeply troubled, with Anglo pedigrees.

Today's great poet:
  • Is a good friend to other writers, famous or not.
  • Doesn't kill himself/herself if NYC publishers or lion litmags aren't into his/her innovations.
  • Keeps learning and eagerly shares what he/she knows.
  • Acts locally.
  • Consciously contributes to the greater good.
  • Keeps writing while being chided for being one of JUST TOO MANY POETS.
  • Studies in a writing program if he/she wants to, and doesn't worry whether there are JUST TOO MANY WRITING PROGRAMS.
Jun 27

The Instant Leper

Small mental-health tip: Never offer the information that you are a writer.

I have learned to tell strangers at bus stops or family parties that I am a webmaster, or, if I really want to hear them talk, I say I’m a teacher (not a professor). “Teacher” elicits all sorts of commentary and memories, plus the “Guess What I Teach” game. Everyone always guesses right: I’m an English teacher. I fail to see what is wrong with looking like one.

But when you tell a stranger, “I’m a writer,” you'll get frosted or flummoxed by one of these:

  • “A writer, eh? Ya know, my life could be a book. Whoo-ee! I’ll tell it to you and you can write it.”
  • “What do you write?” (Disappointment or disapproval will follow regardless of your answer)
  • “Have you ever heard of this book called (Dune, Twilight, The Lovely Bones, Ball Four)?”
  • “Have you published anywhere I might have read it?”
  • “So you get to sit home all day and write.”
  • “My daughter writes poetry. It helps so much with her depression.”
I once told a talented but unschooled writer (think Chuck Palahniuk), unemployed for two years, that Human Resources staffs were likely giving him the bum’s rush because he just had to say in his cover letter, “But what I really am is a writer.” Might as well say, “I’m a leper.”