Tuesday, 7 March 2017

It Ain't Easy Being a Poet!

Many Famous Poets had a Tough Time Overcoming Obstacles
Eadweard Muybridge, Public Domain
The poet Wallace Stevens once remarked that he liked being a poet because he could dash off a poem in the morning and have the rest of the day to himself!   Of course, Mr. Stevens had an appealingly skewed wit - and we all know it’s not as simple as that.  No, not even for distinguished poets.
A writing student recently said, ‘Until you write about something, you can't find out what you know about it. I don't even know what I'm thinking sometimes, but I'm finding out by writing. I usually have some order in mind, but I never know what's going to happen.’ 
            Writers have always faced and overcome enormous obstacles in their commitment to writing.  Many nineteenth century women even published their work anonymously to avoid censure from a narrow-minded society.  America’s Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) always listened to her mentor, critic and minister, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who actively discouraged her because he believed her poetry wasn’t good enough.  After her death her sister discovered more than one thousand poems in her room, mostly untitled and undated.  Imagine! only seven were published in her lifetime and although these were well-received, Dickinson would not have experienced the joy of a success her talent so richly deserved. 
            Stevie Smith was a poet who had a tough time.  Abandoned by her father in childhood, her mother died while she was a teenager and the initial success of her work was followed by a sharp downturn in her popularity.  Seamus Heaney said of her, ‘I suppose in the end the adjective has to be eccentric.  She looks at the world with a mental squint’, while Philip Larkin’s view was that she was a ‘feminine doodler and jotter who puts down everything as it strikes her, no matter how silly or tragic.’  It takes guts to carry on when those around you are dismissive of your talent including other writers generally held in high esteem. 

          That’s why you must stay true to yourself and take comfort from your writing as Stevie Smith did.  Take constructive criticism on board but resist destructive comments from those who don’t understand or who have a ‘hidden agenda’.

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