Are You a Poet? How Will We Know?

November 25, 2009

For Tuesday, November 24, 2009, written in Chicago’s Union Station

You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.
• Joseph Joubert

I met another poet in the Cincinnati train station on Sunday night. His name is Marcus Clark and he’s in eighth grade. I’m excited about this. I think a lot about how difficult it is to find other poets when you’re traveling. My husband has no trouble finding fellow baseball fans, but poets? They’re in hiding. Sigmund Freud said, “Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.” If Freud had been traveling the U.S. of A. instead of the highways of the psyche, he might have found things quite a bit different. If poets are out there, they’re keeping quiet about their craft in the midst of daily life.

No one’s sharing limericks in the line waiting for the train or comparing freshly-written sonnets in the lounge car of the train. There’s no Hall of Fame for fans to visit anywhere I know of, no hometown stadiums built to celebrate the art, no kids gathered in corner lots tossing rhymes at one another that I’ve seen. The only poetry section in most stores is the aisle where the greeting cards are found. There’s no poetry in the daily newspaper, no place where I can catch up on what I’ve missed, and see how the local, national, and international versifiers are doing. No poetry report on the nightly news.

When someone I meet on the train asks what I do, I try saying I’m a poet. It’s better than saying I’m a teacher and hearing what’s wrong with that world, especially right now, and much better than telling them I’m a recovering English teacher who now teaches teachers. When I do say I’m a poet, most people politely say “that’s nice,” or ask if I make any money writing poems or tell me how much they hated poetry in school when they had to memorize something or explicate something else: “We did a little poetry in school, but mostly it was just “The Raven,” one woman tells me, adding, “Poe was crazy, you know.”

No one volunteers that she or he is a poet too. But I’m sure some of them are. And I met one of them, Marcus. He shared a poem with me from the composition book he’s writing in as we wait for the train in Cincinnati. (I was writing in one too—it’s partly how we found each other.) His poem is meant to evoke the feelings of being a soldier in World War II:

A Captured Heart
by Marcus Clark

Walking down a lonely path through this dreadful night
envisioning the girl who always seems to catch my sight.
Thinking of her night and day even as I lay. . .in this hole
Explosions go off by my head.
Everyone in this hole
but me lies here dead. The
thought of seeing the one I love quickly floats to
the clouds above thoughts of
life slowly slips away
and thoughts of death pour in all
day. Praying to god to help me
get out of hell’s way. Wishing I could
see my love my heart one more
time before we part as days pass
I’m still cheating death knowing
In two hours I’ll take my last
breath. The aroma of her perfume
lingers beneath my nose it makes me warm
I close my eyes and all of
a sudden I’m being taken
by storm. A prisoner of war
being held captive knowing my
love for her will always
be active in two weeks they
set me free on long trip
out to sea back home to
see her face when I get
there I felt my hands on her
waist and tell her how much
she means to me my baby
really fills my heart with

Marcus is thinking of a future that includes architecture, football, and the Air Force. At least that’s his plan right now. He and his mom and sisters are moving to California and I hope he finds a place in his world for poetry. I hope he finds some other poets too. I wrote a poem about this on the Fun-in-Learning-Tour:

Are You a Poet?
by W-OZ

Lean in a little closer to the page.
I have a question for you and I don’t
to see:
Are you a poet?

If you aren’t, it’s fine,
although I hope you’ll try a verse or two,
perhaps start with a couplet or even a haiku
just five seven five
yes, syllables not even
sentences or say–


What are you thinking when you look at
an autumn leaf?
An onion?
A pair of cowboy boots?

But if you are a poet,
how will I know you on the street?
Do words hang from your pockets?
Do they float around your head?
Or are they falling from your fingers,
dropping to the ground
so you can shuffle through them?

Or will I find you at the library
running your hands slowly
along the spines of books,
eyes closed,
dreamily drawing into your self
the pent-up words so you can pen them out again.

And so I ask:
Are you a poet?

How will I know?

As for you, what is the poetry of your life? What or who are you that you keep hidden from others? Who might like to know? And how can you integrate your poetry—whatever it is–into your studies in college? (A note for the literal-minded: poetry is used here as a metaphor and could include any number of things from collecting old can openers to making art from American cheese.)

Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.
• Muriel Rukeyser


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