What kind of Poet are you?

2 May

I had a beautiful Sunday. Slept until 9am, read some reviews on The Review Review (more on this awesome site later in the week), made my SO breakfast and then went to Berkeley with the fam. It was such a busy/relaxed day. An oxymoron I know. While I was reading those reviews though I came across an interview with Paul B. Roth, who is the editor of Bitter Oleander

I’m sure your thinking “Big deal. It’s another editor saying read the submission guidelines.” well what really intrigued me was what he said about poets and the four categories of poets. Here is a direct quote from the page:

“As an editor, to recognize the singularity of a poet in his or her language, is all I do and all I look for in the thousands of submissions received each year. What I receive mostly in submissions are poems from four distinct categories of poets. The first are novices whose emotions get lost in a very structured and generalized language because that’s all they’ve ever experienced in school.

The second group consists of those who have gone through MFA programs and their rigorous curriculums believing they’ve found the secret to expression but have only learned to be good emulators and not yet necessarily individual creators.

The third group consists of those who’ve been writing for years, have found their niche among other writing groups independent of strict academic circles, but have somehow fallen prey to repeating the same thoughts from long ago dressed up in either a more refined state of expression or an experimentally diluted one in order to project its inaccessibility by simply becoming more inaccessible.

The fourth group is the rarest group of all. From these comes a constant flow of poems opening places in my perception that otherwise would have been left in cold storage. These particular poems come from the deepest of human conditions, dwell on what’s ultimately important in life by either expressing the suffering and injustices that abound our civilization or the rapture of seeing, hearing or feeling something one never knew existed.” –Taken from the Review Review, “Inside Bitter Oleander: Interview with Paul B. Roth, Editor of Bitter Oleander

As someone who is in the midst of graduating from an MFA Program I was really drawn to the idea of their being four kinds of poets and especially the second group which Roth describes as “believing they’ve found the secret to expression but have only learned to be good emulators and not yet necessarily individual creators.”  It makes me wonder about the perception of the work that I am sending out into the world. Is the work which I am creating which in my graduate program has been labelled “monologues”, “dramatic work”, “performance poetry” and also being “Ntozake Shange-like”, an emulation of these styles/person or is it a new take on them? Am I creating work which is rich on its own and not just an excellent copy of the work that has come before it. I especially feel this way because when I turned in one of my drafts for my thesis my director suggested that some of the work didn’t seem as innovative as it could. It lacked a specialness, “How is it any different then what Natasha Tretheway is doing?”  was the exact question I believe.  I’m fine with being with in the tradition but I don’t want to repeat that work. I don’t want to be an emulater. I want to be in the rarest group. I want to have poems that open Editors/Readers eyes to a whole new world.

I’ve been considering my next project and I’m excited about it. I won’t discuss it in detail but it’s a big project that I think is incredibly interesting and I think could make an incredible performance piece. But now I’m worried. Am I emulating the work of poets who’ve come before me? Or am I being really original. Truly visionary? And then even if the idea is great, will the writing be worthy of the topic…I’m not sure if it will be. I hope I’m wrong. Desperately.

Anyways, something to think about. So dears, which kind of poet are you? And what do you think of Roth’s  categories?


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