I am at a thing. A historic thing. (An historic thing? I will never know).
Poets are there. Household names. (In my house at any rate.) Like a child who has never been warned about the dangers of staring, I move around the room grinning and gawping at them. These people, chatting in groups. Poets: my heroes.
To one I say : ‘I love your radio programme!’ To another I say: ‘Congratulations!’ To another I say: ‘We haven’t met yet, but now we have!’
To another I say ‘Thank you.’
I could blame the wine, but that would be lying. I may never get this chance again. I have spent too much of my life being English and not saying what I think. Or saying the opposite of what I think because I am English and want to look clever. Tonight is different.
To another poet I say ‘Thank you.’ And to another. And another after that.
There is no time to lose. I could be dead next week. We all could be.
From nowhere, a poet is at my side. A great poet. A seriously good poet. We worked together, once. Handshakes and how are you. I am half way through saying thank you when the poet says to me: ‘I’m stopping. Stopped, I mean. I’ve stopped.’
Sound goes dead in the day, the evening now a tad less glittering and full of thank you.
‘I’ve decided. I can’t do it any more. Why would I want to put myself through that again?’
The poet is serious (and good, and good). I protest this. I protest this again. ‘But you are a great poet! You are responsible for saving my life! You will never know the regions of my heart into which you have spoken and poured your healing. Please come back.’ But the poet will not be talked round.
‘I quit,’ they say to me, looking me in the eye.
It is clear they mean it. We part with another handshake. I resume my traversing of the room, this time with more of a shuffle than a dart in my step. ‘Thank you,’ I murmur. ‘You have saved my life.’
But sometimes saying thank you is not enough.
I don’t believe it. Poetry may give up on the poet but the Poet doesn’t give up poetry – how could they. They may wish to but it wont last. That’s what I think.
It’s easier to give up than we think, perhaps. Especially if the external rewards have become the thing which drive us…
I’m not a poet and read less poetry than you, Anthony, and your readers, I’m sure. But the fact that words have the power to save is real. Your post is both beautifully honest (when you decide to be less British and proclaim your gratitude and admiration out loud) and sad (when the poets annouce that they give up.) Maybe their job is done if they have touched one person. Imagine the world if each writer could heal someone, even only one …
When the line between public and private, ie extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and reward to do something gets so blurred, however, maybe it is time to quit…
In the end – and each poem starts there – it all comes down to oneself and the paper. The uphill struggle, the (pointless?) wrestling, the sleepless nights. It’s not really about other people: just oneself, and the paper.
Can one chose to stop? The times I’ve given up..! And end up there again.
“We’ll see.” you should think. “We’ll see.”
Very interesting. I wonder if the quitting was more to do with the public thing. The being a public poet is truly awful at times. Performing. Meeting people who say, ‘And are you writing much?’ Even just sending them out for editorial verdicts. I have met people who have been made ill by the pressure of magazine rejection, something that’s no big deal to others. Writing poems, if they come to you, privately, seems to me a joy. And like some of the other commenters, I’m not sure stopping is a matter of choice exactly. Or starting, come to that.
Hi Nell, and thank you.
As ever, you are bang on. It was very much the public hurt of this poet which compelled them to stop.
Bless you for not asking who it is.
As ever with best wishes
The writer’s dilemma…we write (poetry, plays, novels, essays). If we’re lucky, we publish – somewhere, somehow. We’re read by friends and strangers who tell us, “I loved your poem, story, play.” We want to ask, “What is it that you loved?” We’re too polite, but then they tell us. We thank them as we shake our heads. We’ve never written anything like that. Whose work did they read? Perhaps it’s time to quit.
I have met some very impolite poets!
‘Why would I want to put myself through that again?’ ‘That’ presumably being what most poets would describe as their toy, their dream, their rest or some variation on that. Why would You not want to put yourself through that again?
Dear Mark, thank ps for your comment. I infer from the poet’s remarks that they meant the public aspect of their work had become intolerable to them and now overshadowed the private joys that you describe. With thanks and best wishes,
Anthony, this is such a powerful post. Makes one really think.
Good for him or her! I think that all British poets should down pens and go on strike for at least a year.
Best wishes from Simon
P.S. But nobody would know we had!
A very powerful post. How sad, I hope the poet finds some way back.