Poetry News

Dispelling Myths, Defending Poets at HuffPo

By Harriet Staff


Stop us if you've heard this one: a poet, an investment banker, a real estate agent, an ads man and an environmental scientist are at a cocktail party... thus begins Lisa Marie Basile's defense of the poet at the Huffington Post. Basile writes:

I assumed their work experiences were their own, and that I shouldn't denigrate them based off of stereotypes. I asked them if their jobs were fulfilling; overall, they said no but that the money was good. I asked them what else they did, because surely their job wasn't the entirety of their personality. Nothing much, really.

When I told them what I did, they were confused. I'm a poet and an editor. I felt singled-out, as if they'd been working hard their whole lives while I was engaged in things of folly, a belle epoque pastime that disqualified me from the grown-up "So, what do you do?" conversation. I tried to explain that doing and being aren't intrinsically connected, but at least a few people found this to be quite radical a notion.

Basile goes on to deliver the brass tacks to her fellow party-goers about the real work poets do:

I cannot blame people for their lack of understanding. Most educated individuals who spend countless dollars on university expect that other people are on a similar trajectory -- university to job. But the Poet's lifestyle is a different animal, not black or white or even in-between; still, this doesn't mean it's not calculated or purposeful.

You don't accidentally stumble into dedication. You can still pay countless dollars for an education in poetry and you can still find a job. Or, you may never go that route. The Poetry exists in tandem with the Life, as if they are Siamese twins. Inseparable, but parallel.

Often falsely defined as a nighttime passion one may have in addition to one's "real job," the Poet is by default reduced to hobbyist. The conventional path may have been taken, just as it may have been forsaken, but either way, its tangibility is in question, just as poetry's content. This (perhaps American) notion of realness denigrates not only the written word but the importance of our quality of life. For me (and for other poets) the Poetry has not only followed education and is a real job. For us, the written word was always important; we don't need a degree to tell us that.

My name is Lisa and I contribute in a variety of ways (if we must derive value from the idea of contributions): I have a day job and I also write, edit and publish work as a poet. I do not moonlight as a poet. Poetry is a job like many others. In some ways, it is more difficult; it is self-created. I believe that a Poet is not merely one who writes poetry but one whose dedication to poetry fits into their private or public lifestyle, and one who advocates for poetry in a way they believe to be valuable and meaningful. We may not all promote poetry in the same way, but by God we adore it.

More analysis and gumption in this pièce de résistance at HuffPo!

Originally Published: May 19th, 2014