BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO CALL ME JOHNSON
All comments welcome; and welcome as additions to the site:
Unless otherwise stated,
© A.E.M. Baumann
Taking a Run at the Words Poetry, Poem, and Poet
— originally a post from the Poetry Daily Critique blog, dated January 29, 2014.
— added here March21, 2014
This is a post I have wanted to write out for a couple of months now, with my increasing use of the words poet and poem and poetry in these posts (and in discussions elsewhere). I always feel as though I am betraying this blog when I use them without the readers understanding something of my use of those words. So, to that end . . . .
A good long while ago I came to recognize that the word "art" had little functional value -- especially as I was using it at the time, within my own speaking about the aesthetic. The problem is that the use of the term "art" brings into the discussion a multitude of "art" obects that have nothing to do with the aesthetic. (Indeed, an ocean of such in comparison to the small lake of the engagements with the aesthetic.) How could I talk about Picasso's Guitar and Violin
as "art" or even "high art" if use of the word meant bringing into the conversation something as unengaging as this
(Daisies #2 by Alex Katz, ) Or something as conventional as this:
(Pot for Her by Anish Kapoor) Or something as bad as this:
(title and artist unknown, image posted on the arteide.it Facebook page).
I couldn't. To speak about "art" is to speak about all those things, and legitimately so. To talk about Guitar and Violin in the way I wished to speak about it, I had to stop speaking about it as "art" and start speaking about it as an aesthetic endeavor. That, in turn, led to a re-examination of the word art and what it means. Where I ended up was that the term art in its general usage (even by artists) really has nothing to do with the aesthetic; rather, it has everything to do with the cultural nomoi as regards art, with the conventionality of the art world, and with the self-defining view of the culture of contemporary art.
The most accurate definition of art that I have ever come upon is:
"Anything for which someone will pay money
so as to hang it on their wall."
(I long ago lost what first prompted that definition.) "Contemporary art" -- the culture of contemporary art -- is not terribly about beauty or the aesthetic; it is not about engagement or medium. It is mostly a reiteration of nomic conventionality. I am reminded of the scene in Scorcese's "Life Lessons," from the film New York Stories, wherein the artist Lionel Dobie is confronted by a potential buyer who is seeking something large that fits a particular spot on his wall. Within the contemporary art world there is no functional difference betwen the sentences "It is a depiction of trans-queer life in Russia" or "It is a cutting statement about the plight of mid-east refugees" or "It is sculpture about belief, or about passion—about experience that is outside of material concern" (to quote Kapoor on the High site) or "It is blue, and fits the decor." They are all statements that have nothing to do with the aesthetic, and everything to do with nomic identity.
Over the years, I have to say, I have been generally successful in moving the word art primarily into that definition, and when I use the word today, it is infrequent that it does not carry with it that critique of contemporary arts (including literature).
For not quite as long -- and very much more so recently with writing this blog and the conversations that have come of it -- I have been facing similar issues with the words poet, poem, and poetry. I have developed over the years something of a distaste for those words, in different measures and for different reasons: pragmatic ones (as with art), yes, but also more personal, emotional reasons.
Take the word poetry first of all. Everyone has encountered that basic question "what is the difference between poetry and prose?" (In fact, I just saw it raised again in yet another shallow appeal to the "wisdom" that is inherent to poetry -- though I cannnot now find where I saw it.) The answers you get can vary greatly. The most pragmatic answer I have heard is "poetry has line breaks." Possibly the most philosophical is the claim that "poetry is an appeal to a higher aesthetic, language, thought than that of prose" -- which sounds great, except that most poetry published today shows less basic ability than your most quotidian, competent prose. That idea of poetry -- and this is not a one-off sentence -- is a use of the word that is primarily declarative in nature: that is, by stating "poetry is an appeal to a higher aesthetic (or whatever) than that of prose," two very simple things are accomplished, and are accomplished in a way that it becomes a blanket statement for most everything that could possibly be called poetry. The second is the declaration that poetry -- in its entirety -- is inherently a higher form of writing than prose. But what precedes that is the necessary declaration that there is in fact a definable thing called "poetry" (which, by the way, encompasses anything that might want to be part thereof and as such part of the claim of that "higher" status) and a definable thing called "prose" (which encompasses everything else).
Of course, with the elevation of "poetry" comes the elevation of the "poem" and, in turn, the "poet."
I myself have two answers to the question, "What is the difference between poetry and prose?" The first, the pragmatic, is: "Those are the only choices?"
This is from the description of Browning's The Ring and the Book as found on the Shearsman Books publishing site (the specific page is here):
|If Sordello is a book-length poem, then The Ring and the Book--in its day regarded as Browning's greatest achievement, but today out of fashion--is something different. It is in fact a great novel, but one presented in blank verse, almost 21,000 lines of it, and in twelve books, each representing a different view of the action [. . .]. Why it has been described as an "epic poem" is a puzzle; it is epic only in length; it is a poem only because it is in verse. Pushkin's Yevgeny Onegin (Eugene Onegin) is everywhere regarded as a novel, although it is in verse. The Ring and the Book is the greatest of all English verse novels; it is one of the great English novels of the 19th century; it is a remarkably modern novel in terms of narrative technique; it is, by any standards a great work of English Literature.|
It is the best simple eradication of the legitimacy of dividing literature into poetry and prose I have seen in quite a while. The Ring and the Book is an novel-in-verse; it is a novel, in verse. "Well, it's verse, so it's poetry," one may say. But, the distinction is equally made that, unlike Sordello, it is not a book length poem but a novel. So, it is a poem (as it is in verse), yet it is a not a poem (it is structurally a novel).[FN] Of course, we can use the example to try to create fixed definitions to re-demark the difference between poetry and prose, but I do believe Occam's razor rather takes the field when I say, "Why must it be only between poetry and prose?"
[FN] There is a problem here in my use of the word novel, as the novel itself is a genre. But in popular usage, the word novel has come to mean any large, narrative book (generally in prose form) whether it meet the general description of the genre of the popular novel or not. (Things such as Ulysses or Tristram Shandy are not novels.) The reason most fiction books are relatively the same thing is because of how well established is the genre of the novel, with its demanded conventions and formats: so well established, actually, that variation too far from those conventions will push your prose-work into something that becomes unacceptable -- if not unreadable -- to those readers who are demanding novels. (What do you think would happen if Stephen King wrote his next book in the style of Burroughs's The Soft Machine? How far do you think that will fly with his readership? Indeed, is not Misery the story of a reader who reacts violently to a change in her nomos, reacts to a radical change in the expected conventions of her genre of literature? (which is also to say in a very sane way her worldview?) [Btw: I have only seen the movie, not read the book.])
Why can't there also be the conventions of the verse novel? The epic poem? The short story? The novella and the novelette? The short form poem? The narrative poem? The prose poem? The epistolary novel? The trilogy? The micro-poem? (For the sake of brevity, I arbitrarily leave out anything dramatic in nature.) It is, in the end, little more than an act of categorization. We create categories, we put the various objects into the categories as best we can. To me, the insistence of dividing literature between poetry and prose is as absurd, pointless, and most importantly detrimental an endeavor as designing the classification of life on earth by (a) things that live on land; (b) things that live in water; and (c) things with the ability to fly -- which was rather how they were often divided, a few thousand years ago.
Something, by the way, that is wholly legitimate. (After all, it's Biblical.) We set up our classification systems arbitrarily -- and develop them, ultimately, so as to increase their usefulness.[FN] So I have to question, again: what is the usefuleness of forcing upon all of literature a straight division between poetry and prose?
[FN] If you would like a fascinating demonstration of this, read up on how the scientific classification of plants -- or of protozoa -- is constantly in shift as botanists search for a method that works the best; which is to say, offers the most for the results.
Of course, there will be complications in abanding such a simplistic (in the very bad sense) line. English departments might actually have to back up and begin again to adress the concept of literature as an art form. Even worse, MFA programs will have to recognize just how bogged down in convention and reiteration they are. (Bookstores have never had issue with white washing such questions away: their classification systems are market driven, not literature driven.) But, in the end, I honestly believe that the distinction is established, and maintained -- and I hold there are historical reasons for this, though historical reasons I think long inapplicable -- in order to sustain the idea that poetry is a "more elevated" literature than prose. And, brought down to the level of individual poets, that the poetry they themselves write is, indeed, "elevated literature."
But am I really supposed to accept that this:
This is what it sounds like outside,|
fat geese and guinea hens holding hands.
I am 31, which is very young for my age.
That is enough to realize I’m a pencil that has learned
how to draw the Internet.
(from "Wings of Desire," Amy King -- in the current Poetry Magazine) or this:
Fastened to a service animal|
it is waiting for the beep.
It is waiting for the right to change.
Hello, I know you’re there, pick up.
(from "Sweet Virginia," Michael Robbins -- Poetry) or this:
were some quite creepy men -- one|
used to lie down
on the dayroom floor, then get us all
to pile on top of him -- and a basilisk-
eyed matron in a blue uniform with a watch
beneath her right
(from "In Loco Parentis," Mark Ford -- Poetry) comes out of a higher attention to language than this
|The dog, quivering in every muscle, sprang back, his tonque a stiff curving terror in his mouth; moved backward, back, as she came on, whimpering too, coming forward, her head turned completely sideways, grinning and whimpering. Backed into the farthest corner, the dog reared as if to avoid something that troubled him to such agony that he seemed to be rising from the floor; then he stopped, clawing sideways at the wall, his forepaws liften and sliding. Then head down, dragging her forelocks in the dust, she struck against his side. He let loose one howl of misery and bit at her, dashing about her, barking, as as he sprang on either side of her he always kept his head toward her, dashing hs rump now this side, now that, of the wall.|
(Nightwood, Djuna Barnes) or this
|A funeral passes through the Market. Black coffin -- Arabic inscriptions in filigreed silver -- carried by four pallbearers. Procession of mourners singing the funeral song . . . Clem and Jody fall in beside them carrying a coffin, the corpse of a hog bursts out of it . . . The hog is dressed in a djellaba, a keif pipe juts from its mouth, one hoof holds a packet of feelthy picutres, a mezuzzoth hangs about its neck . . . Inscribed on the coffin: "This was the noblest Arab of them all." They sing hideous parody of the huneral song in false Arabic.|
(Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs) or this
Believe me, pards, we're living in an age of myths and miracles.|
Call it divine coincidence, good instincts or bad timing, but at the very moment the People's Princess and Prince Harrod-al-Ritz hit the concrete in Paris I was zonked out of my brain, hanging in a frayed Troll harness from teh basket of a Hitsu FG-180 hot-air balloon drifting through Little Cayman's perfect skies in teh mellow light of the setting sun and snapping the godzilla bonkshot of the century.
(King of the City, Michael Moorcock) merely because it has line breaks? And I am not here trying to denegrate the poems as worse than the prose, I am merely saying that the blanket observation that "poetry" is of higher nature than "prose" is untenable. (Even more so when you move from language to ideation and depth.)
It is very easy to make such a claim (even considering how much bad poetry is out there) when you are comparing poetry to the likes of Nicholas Sparks or John Grisham or Stephen King. And I will be honest, the prose-fiction I have seen being written today out of MFA programs seems very often to be trying very hard to firmly establish prose as the lower member of that binary. (And have heard prose writers speak to that aim.) But when you make the comparison against writers who are taking their writing seriously -- and I will get back to that word -- the contrast is not really there to be found. Indeed I would argue there is more literary beauty in this one sentence from Proust (even translated)
|Higher up on the altar, a flower had opened here and there with a careless grace, holding so unconcernedly, like a final, almost vaporous adornment, its bunch of stamens, slender as gossamer and entirely veiling each corolla, that in following, in trying to mimic to myself the action of their efflorescence, I imagined it as a swift and thoughtless movement of the head, with a provocative glance from her contracted pupils, by a young girls in white, insouciant and vivacious.|
(Swann's Way, Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright 1998 paperback edition, pg 156) than in ninety percent of what I read on the Poetry Daily and Verse Daily sites.
And the reason is, primarily, because the writers of those ninety percent either are not very good writers or are writing not very good poems. The large majority of contemporary poetry seems little more than a great mass of words on paper, mostly in the nature of diary entries or bumper-sticker political statements or exercises in language (whose claims tend to work more to their reception than the results). But, if we make and accept this mystical distinction between poetry and prose, then suddenly all that ninety percent (well, most of that ninety percent) is raised into the rarefied airs of this wonderful endeavor called "poetry" (and, though it usually remains unspoken, the timeless body of literature).
Indeed, if you regard the concept of prose through the examples of such as Grisham and King, then the distinction between poetry and prose starts to make a lot of sense and in more than one way. There is of course the already stated result that it is easier to create the idea that poetry as a whole stands above prose as a whole as concerns attention to language if you force all texts into one or the other on what are superficial ground. (Nightwood is prose, ergo it is lesser literature than Oliver's American Primitive. More importantly, Oliver's American Primitive is poetry, so it is a greater literature than Nightwood.[FN]) But also in the sense that the less sophisticated the poetry and the prose, the more those texts are going to conform quite nicely to very basic and recognizable characteristics of "poetry" and "prose." Banal, conventional poetry is the most readily acceptible within the classification of poetry because it most "looks like" poetry. So also banal, conventional prose.
[FN] I am speaking here of judgments as you hear them made within the culture of poetry. Whether or not Oliver herself as an individual would make such a statement I could not say. Nor does it really matter when set against the needs of the culture of contemporary poetry.
At the other end of the spectrum, the more a writer strives to create with words (which means only "create something new" with words), the less those works fit easily within the standard classifications. Is Flaubert's The Temptation of St. Anthony prose? Is Edward Dorn's Slinger a novel-in-free verse? If Zukofsky's "A" is a large scale poetic work, how do you deal with #24, which is music? Is Finnegans Wake prose? poetry? or something that forces the recognition of a new classification? Indeed, is not the correct classification of Finnegans Wake that it is a "Finnegans Wake"?
Which leads me to my second response, the theoretic/critical response to "What is the difference between poetry and prose?"
Answer: The question is a stupid question.
The very distinction is pointless, untenable, and detrimental to literature as an art form. It is not the seventeenth century any more; words are now understood as a medium that can be taken beyond the distinction between expository prose and metered poetry. (And I don't mean only the question of whether the distinction is only between A or B. I mean also the forcing of the distinguishing itself.)
I have before written about this poetry-prose opposition, and pointed out that it is a wholly false gamut. You cannot set up a one dimensional spectrum with something like "pure poetry" on one end and "pure prose" on the other because the ideas are not something inherent to the medium of the written word. They are artificial terms of classification. If examining the medium in its own nature the primary spectrum would be that between the aesthetic and the nomic. The diagram one would draw would have a field labeled "the aesthetic" to one side, and out of that area would come a splay of lines which divide into the broad, conventional definitions of "poetry" and "prose," and within subdivide into the acceptable sub-genres such as prose-poem, novel-in-verse, etc. The more conventional the text -- the more nomic the text -- the easier it will be to set it comfortably at the far end where the categories of poetry and prose are neatly established, and that because the more conventional the text the more it will have been written to the generic expectations of the nomic audience, of those neat,comfortable definitions. The more aesthetic the text (the more text is attempting to create something out of language, the more it is engaging the individual psyche within the cosmos as opposed to reiterating the stock conventions of the writing culture of the time), the more such categories make no sense in their application to the work, and the more such categories are pointless and purposeless to the work, and the more the works can only be engaged as themselves: there is only one Finnegans Wake, there is only one Paterson, one Nightwood, one Nova Trilogy: and they must be engaged on their own terms -- and that because they have engaged the reader on their own terms.
If we want to make a categorization that has some merit to it, one that is not simply a listing of genres in to which works are either written or forced (high art need not apply), let's try something that recognizes the nature of literary works and the aesthetic. How about, simply:
Aesthetic Writing vs. Genre Writing
which is a wholly legitimate division. To the one side you have those works that are endeavors into the aesthetic. On the other, you have those works that intend to fit within the conventions of a genre: which would include works of social or political criticism or genre-driven fiction, and also non-fiction forms, like biography, history, and the undergrad physics text. And within that side you can wholly have your subdivisions of poetry and prose, of novel and verse-novel and epic poem, of short story and prose poem and novella. And, to be honest, I think that would be a very good thing. For then literary studies could start to accept that a novella is a different thing than a novel and should be treated as such; that an epistolary novel is a different thing than a straight narrative. Political poetry can be recognized for what it is -- political statements with a bit of literary flourish -- and be accepted and studied for what it is. The debate "is a prose poem poetry or prose" can finally be set aside as a moronic and pointless waste of time: a prose poem is a prose poem! How more simple can it be?! Maybe we need a new term -- we'll call it a "nibbet." Does that make it easier to deal with the idea of people writing to a form? (Though, if you want to change your definitions of poetry and prose so as to include prose poems in one or the other, that is wholly a viable option.
And then, also, people who write and read the aesthetic can write and read and study the aesthetic without the statement "that is not an aesthetic text, that's a political poem" being received as implicitly derogatory.
The distinction between the aesthetic and the generic is one of modality, not one of quality. They both should be studied for what they are, just as they both can be enjoyable in their own way. I frequently point out that Barthes, when he is discussing the differences between the aesthetic and the generic, is quick to say, "this does not mean that Hugo (a nomic writer) is not enjoyable, that I do not enjoy reading Hugo." The point is, rather, to point out that those two types of texts are different in nature: and while Hugo may be enjoyable, he is nonetheless quite disposable. Read it once and it is done. But moreso it is to say that to speak of Les Misérables and Ulysses as the same nature of text is absurd, and detrimental to the discussion of both.[FN]
[FN] I am leaving out of this discussion the aspect that no text can be wholly aesthetic or wholly nomic, and that the reading a text also functions within the aesthetic and the nomic (you can read a nomic text aesthetically: which would be to examine its conventionality).
I do not like using the words poem and poetry because they are used to create a distinction that really serves no valuable purpose. (And, on the personal level, a distinction that I do not hold except as genres or care to write to.) In honesty, in the end, I like the definition of poetry as "a text with line breaks." If there has to be a classification of literature that is called "poetry," then that is as good a line of demarkation as can be found, especially once you accept that there is no viable distinction between the two to be made out of the medium of words: the distinction is arbitrary, and valuable only to its usefulness -- which within the endeavor of making beautiful things out of words is not very far.(But also it must be recognized in that the distinction is wholly arbitrary, it will create the conventions that will sustain that distinction: poeple will write "poetry" that looks like "poetry," and prose because it looks like "prose.")
Thus, I have a dislike for the words "poetry" and "poem" when applied to anything that lies outside the conventions of pop-poetry (where the definition and word naturally belongs). Of course, there is a pragmatic use to the word to identify things with line breaks, and I will admit I am having a far more difficult time changing my use of those words than I had with changing my use of the word art. (For one, with art I could move to focusing on the idea of the aesthetic; with poetry there is no easily susbstituting term.) Though, I do know I have a great distaste for calling my own works poems, especially since so many of them do not so readily fit into that conventional definition. Moreso, because I do not like the implication that I am writing to or participating in . . . . . . Well, let's move here from "poem" and to "poet."
Here is the truth, something I noticed of myself not terribly long ago: I tend to wince when I am called a poet. I dislike the term, and I dislike being associated with that term. The word poet today is far more a declaration than it is a description, far more about a person saying "look at me, I have elevated myself to the ranks of literature," rather than other people saying "wow, you’ve accomplished something; you merit this title." In fact, most of the time when a person calls themself a "poet" I can smell the ego that drips from the speaking of it.
"Poets" today read Frost’s "The Figure a Poem Makes" (which I pull up again because it is presently on mind) and go "yes, how true; he really knows what he’s talking about." "Poets" today read these lines from the end of Browning’s The Ring and the Book:
So, British Public, who may like me yet,|
(Marry and amen!) learn one lesson hence
Of many which whatever lives should teach:
This lesson, that our human speech is naught
Our human testimony false, our fame
And human estimation words and wind.
Why take the artistic way to prove so much?
Because, it is the glory and good of Art,
That Art remains the one way possible
Of speaking truth, to mouths like mine at least. (XII.835-44)
and then go on to speak at length (and in a voice not unlike what one might hear under a revival tent) about the power and truth of poetry, without ever giving consideration to those final words: "to mouths like mine at least." It is the nature of "poets" to naturally include themselves in every positive acclamation of poets and poetry and literature in its highest. When the fact of the matter is, those last words were put in to separate the words of Browning (and The Ring and the Book) from just such as them. It never occurs to them that Frost is not writing about bad poetry written by unread undergrads just entering the world of literature, but about poets, about the great mass of not-at-all-that-good poetry that makes up the exceedingly greatest part of poetry being published at any time.
Magically, even though Wordsworth in his Preface is talking about what is so non-literary, non-aesthetic about the majority of the poets of his day, a contemporary "poet" never gives thought to that the same accusations may apply to them: that their poetry is wholly rooted in conventionality and pop (or is just bad). My most considered estimation of why Pound’s essays are not read by contemporary poets is that they strike too close to the bone. It is tough to talk about something such as this in an MFA class
|Let us suppose the child, never having taken a music lesson in her life, hears Busoni play Chopin, and on the spur of the moment, thinking to produce similar effect, hires a hall and produces what she thinks sounds somewhat the same. These things are in the realm of music mildly unthinkable; but then the ordinary piano teacher spends more thought on the art of music than does the average "poet"on the art of poetry. ("I Gather the Limbs of Osiris")|
when the indictment applies to nearly every MFA student in the class. (I hate to tell you, but "keeping up with what is published today" has almost no bearing within "thought on the art of literature.")
An internet friend led me just recently to this moment from D.G. Meyers’s A Commonplace Blog[FN]:
|I have already shared an anecdote from this class, concerning an assignment, and told how the enrollment sheet, misprinting the course’s name as the "History of Literacy Criticism," amused him. (Now that I have taught graduate students, and seen for myself what passes for literacy among recent college graduates, I understand why he was amused.)|
'T is to laugh. I can speak quite plainly on the degree of willing incompetence I have witnessed within graduate ranks in English and, especially, Creative Writing. And that is a chosen word, there, not a loose or humorous description: incompetence: the inability to perform the basic tasks of the field.
[FN] The previous post on this blog was about another post from A Commonplace Blog: as you might surmise, this post left the gate first but crossed the line second.
But -- and if you understand this blog at all you may see this coming -- it is always insufficient and incorrect for me to speak in terms of the quantified or in the manner of quantifying. As such, incompetence for me speaks less about the measured ability or inability of a person than the active endeavoring of the person -- which is why my phrase was "willing incompetence." Here's something I heard recently on a sports talk show (though, I cannot now remember even if it was on TV or radio):
Excellence does not like to be around mediocrity;
Mediocrity cannot stand to be around excellence.
I have almost assuredly modified the wording to my tastes. The point in the context of sports was locker room mentality in the NFL. Excellent players do not like to be around mediocre players, because the latter can only bring them down. In turn, mediocre players cannot stand to be around excellence, because they cannot bear the comparison.
But even within that context everyone was aware that what they were really saying is
People who strive for excellence do not like
to be around people who are satisfied with mediocrity;
People who are satisfied with mediocrity cannot stand
to be around people who strive for excellence.
(A lot more words to get to the same the point, so you see how the first is preferable.) In fact, this is one of the tests of whether or not a person with excellence is also an asshole: if they are not, they enjoy being around people who are striving for excellence even though they are beneath them on the learning curve. What is important, in the end, for excellence, is that they are always striving.
Which is probably why I wince at being called a "poet." The word is far more a substitute for the effort of striving for excellence than it is a label of the accomplishments of that striving. The word is one taken upon oneself: "I have written a poem; ergo, I am a poet." Or, "I have published a poem; ergo, I am a poet." Hate to tell ya, but the bar’s pretty low on that one. The "accomlishment" just isn't there.
"But I am a 'poet' simply because I write poetry!" the person may retort. Is the child in the Pound quote above a "pianist" simply they are playing the piano? Are they a "pianist" at the recital after their first year of lessons? their third? their fifth? Or are they more accurately "someone taking piano lessons"?
"But I have (or am in the process of getting) an MFA in poetry!" comes the next response. Even, "I teach in the MFA program at the U!" To which I mostly have the same reply: the bar is pretty low -- or, perhaps it is better to say it has nothing to do with striving for brilliance. Far, far too many people call themselves poets when a far more honest statement would be "I play around with poetry." Which is not a bad thing, don't get me wrong. I play around with guitar. And I do have no small talent in music, and some ability on the instrument. But I always refuse people identifying me as a "pretty good guitarist." I am a hack. I have not given it the time or the effort that merits my being called a "pretty good guitarist," or even "a guitarist." I play the guitar. That’s it. Don’t elevate me beyond my merits, beyond my striving. To do so is an insult to the people who do dedicate themselves to the hours upon hours, days upon days of study and practice that is what it takes to be a guitarist.
In the end, for me, the joke is come true:
"Don't call me a poet."
"I've met too many poets."
So play with poetry. Say you play with poetry. Be happy playing with poetry (or with "language," if you want to dump that particular word). Share your playing with language with other people. But don't tell me you are a "poet" simply because you can successfully hit the <Enter> key before you have reached the period. Because I have no problem whatsoever with people who play with poetry. Go for it. I enjoy playing with my guitar just as much, I am sure. But if that's all you are doing, then that's all you are doing. (Again: reading poetry is not the same thing as studying creating things out of words.) And as comes to literature, my interests are something different: making beautiful things out of the words. I really do not care if you want to puzzle over whether it is poetry or prose, lyrical or narrative, or whatever. In the end, when it comes to it, what I care is this question: are you striving, learning, endeavoring? Then we have something to talk about Thursday nights over beers at the tavern. I'll meet ya' there.