I’m really pleased to get three poems into Dreamcatcher #34, though there’s perhaps not much similarity between them. Is it a good thing, or not, that many of my poems seem to be written by different people – or at least by different intents? I wouldn’t say that I have extensive range as a poet, but I do write different sorts of work – from two line joke poems (actually, my shortest so far has been a single word), through silly stuff in the vein of Spike Milligan, to the personal or observational lyric (and name me a contemporary poet who doesn’t write those), to the rather strange and surreal, sometimes quite dark, and weird experimental stuff (which generally disappoints, but that doesn’t stop me). I like sonnets, though I find them hard to write. I’m currently working on a set of love poems, though there’s no sonnet amongst them. And I continue to struggle with my long poem – it’s not Paradise Lost by any means, but it stands ar around twenty pages, may well be still incomplete, and I can’t currently see that there’s any part of it to cut. I like creating sequences of poems, too, although to date the only one that stands published as a sequence is the five Kim Phuc poems in my collection.
Almost in the same moment that I opened Dreamcatcher came an email that I’d not made it into an anthology I was rather hoping I’d be accepted for. I wrote two new poems specifically for it, and both, I thought, offered a couple of things that were interestingly unusual – but the editors apparently disagreed. Somehow the joy of acceptance doesn’t offset the disappointment of rejection. Every time it happens I go through the same familiar cycle of thinking that Imust be pretty useless as a poet, that the successes only arrive through accident or persistence rather than any actual quality in the writing. Then I look at the long list of poems I’ve yet to publish, finding it hard to identify any that actually seem worthwhile, and find myself wondering if I’m simply wasting my time. I’ve well over 200 poems published, plus my book of course – you’d think that’d be enough to please anyone. But, apparently not. Ego. Self doubt. The fear that the last poem published will be the last poem ever published.
Poetry should not be about self-aggrandisement, but I fear most of us write because we want to have our words out in the world, not because we have some sense of pleasing others or addressing the world’s difficulties. In fact, when I did write with a belief that I’d be doing something for the sake of others – with a social or even political agenda (this was in my youth, you understand) the work was almost completely unsuccessful. In fact, at that time my best work was completely self-indulgent – fantasy and extravagant invention, with nothing to offer except entertainment and the occasional belly laugh.
Perhaps that’s the lesson here. Perhaps poets take themselves too seriously. Maybe that’s why no-one actually reads poetry, but hundreds of people feel they can write it.