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Poet Identity

Guest Blog. This essay was written by a recent student-friend, as he explores one of those areas by which we establish meaning in our lives, our self-ascribed identities. For my generation, this might have been best captured by the reflection on "What do you do?" from the 8.31.2018 blog Working It Out, but for a Millenial like Andrew, this is more what it is like for a bright college graduate on a path to finding himself. It's not so much about the "identity politics" of what group to which you might belong, nor so much about what you do, but who you are and who you want to be, both for youirself and others.

How many poems must I write to become a poet?

Perhaps one is sufficient. One poem proves the successful transition from intention into actuality. Many people fail to take this first step, as doing so betrays a certain temerity or arrogance to become what one is not. Or perhaps, through the trials of a lifetime, one becomes what one truly is – writing a poem then does not reflect a change in the ontological set of one’s being or identity but rather a shift in one’s self-knowledge.

Truly, though, let’s be serious for a moment. Not everyone who writes a poem may convincingly claim to be a poet. What if the poem sucks terribly? So bad it clears the room. If one, after such dreadful utterances, then persists, “Given that I am a poet speaking poetry, these bumpkins that flee must be dull and piteously uncultured!” One then proves oneself more of an asshole than a poet. If instead one learns from this experience, continues to write and improve, and one day returns and captivates the crowd with words beautiful and sensitively possessed, then one might dare to call oneself poet. And, in this age of currency-instantiated value, if one ever publishes for pay, one may safely regard oneself as poet.

So one poem is the minimum. But the more accurate answer is something like “as many as it takes.” Takes for what, precisely? For the aspirant to become a poet proper? We then beg the question and so obscure the path forward.

Memory returns me to the first time I read a poem to a sober living audience. Consider my relief when the listeners neither ran, scoffed, nor spontaneously combust, but instead seemed to genuinely enjoy my reading. Leaving the venue, my steps were light, and I felt I was then becoming something I was not before. But when I reached my home and sank into my chair my mood flagged. If only some Secret Poetry Authority would bust a hole in my living room wall, dive-roll in, and stamp “Not A Fraud” on my forehead. Then I would know for certain if something essential had changed.

And yet, here I am, confused as ever before. Perhaps to relieve this confusion I ought to examine identity more generally. Here are some initial thoughts:

Identity can be static or dynamic across time. I have always been a son, but it seems I must become a poet. I was a student, but now I am in the workforce. I am now and plan to always be a learner.

Identity can be intrinsic or extrinsic. It is part of my character to be patient and understanding with people who suffer mental health problems. This is an internal striving. However, the group home I work at pays me to fill that role, introducing an external impetus.

Identity can be more or less situational. My gender is certainly male, but is expressed somewhat differently when competing in poker with a group of guys than when I make myself emotionally available for a friend going through hard times. Further, nothing about being a man prevents me from donning a dress and performing in drag. Conversely, my sex as a man locks me into a given reproductive role spanning my entire life, regardless of context.

There are surely more characteristics of identity to explore. But let’s pause, as there are already major problems with my thought on the matter. “Son” as an identity at first appears to be stable and enduring across my entire lifespan.