Néstor M. Gulias
Been thinking again. This ought to do wonders for my readership, but being the sadistic blogger that I am, I shall not lie alone in misery. Interesting issues raised by blogistas Roger Pao and A.D., others I think as well (forgive me if names escape me) about the scorn felt when introducing themselves in public as “poets”. Roger talks of his near “shyness” when admitting his poetic interests in public—an Asian public which is often stereotyped as being into engineering, mathematics, medicine, etc., or otherwise into Kung Fu, Chinese food, or submissive prostitution*—and feeling that scorn which comes from hearing, and I paraphrase A.D.**: Aha, a poet? So what do you really do for a living? This is sad. Sort of what James Merrill felt but in reverse: “So what do I really do for a living? Nothing but I do write poetry in my spare time.”
So think about it. You are not alone. (Think scary. Spooky.) And if that doesn’t make you feel better, think again. My harsh side—that little long-nailed devil on my shoulder, the one Goethe fired—immediately says, with his usual suave sensitivity: “People are not asking you what you are, but what you do.” Wow! Thus Spake Zarathustra. Think of it that way. It gives you leeway to lie or to tell the truth, the latter being reserved for existentialist liars. So, yes, “I’m a gigolo by night, a poet by day” is a more appropriate, indeed credible reply. (Don’t feel bad Roger, they used to think I did the hub-cap thing by night until the joke got tiring even to them.)
Truthfully, no one will believe you either way; that or they’ll think you’re part of the new breed of unemployed superhero coming to save Poetry America (though sadly that job has already been taken by the incombustible Joan Houlihan. The world is a sad place!) So you know where you stand. “No, you are not a poet, not until you are, for certain, a poet to yourself. Yes, that’s right,” the little bastard devil says, “the word poet when speaking of the self ought to burn your tongue.” Son of a….! “I heard that,” he replies, scratching his goatee. Isn’t he sweet? Little fucking Emerson. Sensitive as poet’s demands.
* Roger Pao: “Writing poetry” isn’t an anti-Asian or anti-Asian American stereotype that I’ve ever witnessed being thrown around, like being an engineer, a math geek, or a computer nerd. It’s not being a dragon lady, a kung fu master, a laundry person, a submissive prostitute, or a sushi chef either.
** A.D.: “At a new year’s party I drew some odd looks after telling someone that I was a poet.”