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Andrew Rafalski

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What is a Poet
by Andrew Rafalski

Sunday, November 30, 2003

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Here is what e.e. cummings said. We can all gain some insights from this:

"A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn't. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel -- but that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling -- not knowing or believing or thinking. Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or believe you know, you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself.

"To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time -- and whenever we do it, we're not poets.

"If at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you've written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed. And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world -- unless you're not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die. Does this sound dismal? It isn't. It's the most wonderful life on earth. Or so I feel."
--Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962)


I have a mild disagreement with someone about the "ten or fifteen years of fighting and working..." Do you think he meant 10 to 15 years of living or 10 to 15 years of writing poetry?

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Reviewed by jude forese 12/4/2003
a poet is a very unusual creature ...
Reviewed by Jim Dunlap 12/3/2003
Possibly both. Never forget that e.e.cummings, whose Wasteland is considered a milestone in world literature, had to have Ezra Pound critique and proof the entire manuscript before publication. Pedantic? Interesting choice of descriptive terms, Robin.
Reviewed by Helga Ross 11/30/2003
Andrew, thanks for sharing this.
Thought-provoking it is.
I think he meant both.

Reviewed by Floria Kelderhouse (Reader) 11/30/2003
There's poetry and then there is "poetry" I have both kinds....sadly to say I have more of the normal...sit down and write a sonnet type....but to really write....I MUST feel it....when I feel it...I know it is I think perhaps he meant life...feeling... and then writing...that's what makes the most sense to me....thanks for posting this very interesting article...floria
Reviewed by E T Waldron 11/30/2003
I opt for his meaning 10-15 years of writing poetry. I think many don't realize what true poetry is, and I agree with him that it must be what you feel, anything else is just mere words.
Reviewed by Robin Ouzman Hislop 11/30/2003
i think its a bit heavy, as far as poetry is concerned i think we´ve just got to realise the poem, i suppose in his own pedantic way of the times that´s what he was getting at
Reviewed by Ronald Hull 11/30/2003
Nobody-but-yourself sounds selfish and introspective. I think it is okay to write to yourself in your own language until you get it right, but when you publish--put it out for others to see--you must communicate. The "gems" are rare. You must write a lot to achieve them. Others will find them in the rough.
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