Poets Who Get Lonely

January 14, 2018.

Playwrights are poets who get lonely. –  Joy Gregory

I’ve written poetry as long as I can remember writing. And early on, I never saw a distinction between poetry-as-genre and the poetry found in a text of any genre. I intuitively understood poetry as a way to communicate something that transcends the specific, by means of the specific.

Yes, I’m aware that my definition is by no means universal. And I’m not trying to convince anyone to agree with me. I’m aware of the debate between the timely vs. timeless aspects of art, the universal vs. the specific. I respect that debate. But I’m not participating.

Neither am I precious about poetry. I don’t say that it is something I have to do, or I would die. I wouldn’t die. Though I suppose I’d be even more messed up than I am.

I aways return to it – even after having sworn if off more than a few times. I can’t avoid it – writing or reading whatever genre I stumble into.

When I ask myself what a poetry community might mean to me, I’m at a loss. When I was a child, we moved so frequently, and carried with us so many secrets, I found companionship in books. Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne. Judy Bloom and Stephen King. Dickinson and Millay. It was a diverse community. Millay wrote plays. Helen Hayes wrote a memoir-cum-anthology-cum-love letter to the dead authors who wrote for her.

There was Shakespeare.

It’s always been about writing to the dead, I think. Even when addressing the living, I looked over their shoulder, with the faith that the people who spoke to me – I could speak back to, just as clearly. Eventually. With practice. Even if I’d landed on the wrong planet, at the wrong time to fit in. It is a comforting delusion that is difficult to walk away from.

I am the imaginative version of Emilie Dickinson – shouting from the top of the stairs. Genuinely happy for any company, desperately suspicious. Scared.

I am a Norwegian citizen. But not a Norwegian writer. I am not an American writer. A few years ago, I was excited when an American colleague wrote to tell me one of her students wrote about one of poems in her term paper. It turned out she mentioned the poem to criticise my use of formalist terminology.


What is a writing community? Am I looking for the salon, or the table where the powerful people sit and write each other into the history books? Am I looking for commiserators, or competitors by which to gauge my progress and commitment?

Am I listening with an ear to conform or with the intention to empathise and learn? Learning to what end? Why do I need/want to be seen, and why do I fear it?

I question my own decision to return to playwrighting. All this time, all these years in a chosen self-exile, comfortably writing to the dead.

And what do I want from the living? Is it that, now, at mid-life (when so little about death is theoretical) I need someone to breathe life into the words while I’m still here?

Am I losing faith?

Am I lonely?

I’ve been considering the spring reboot of This Choice.

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted when I started, what I found fulfilling, and what I didn’t.

I’d wanted conversations. And I did have some really lovely conversations. (One left me in tears!) But when I did get involved in the discussion, I would edit it out – concerned that any listener would think the project was about self-promotion.

As a result, my original idea of podcast “conversations” quickly evolved into straight interviews, in which people talked about themselves, promoted their work. When people asked me my opinion or about my experience, I’d say, “Oh, but we are talking about you” and I’d edit it out.

Several times, when saying goodbye, people thanked me for the “service” I was doing for the community.

Funny that a project I began as a way to reach out and find a sense of kinship became even more isolating for me as a writer.

Something happened lying in the hospital bed this summer. I learned it is important that I am honest with myself about how I spend my time – and why.

IMG_20171121_093440_587I want to try again.

It was never my intension to provide “a service to the community”. As crappy as that sounds – I just wanted to talk with writers I admired.

So. I am the imaginative Emilie Dickinson.

I just might suck it up–and come
down the stairs to meet you-

8 thoughts on “Poets Who Get Lonely Leave a comment

  1. Funny that a project I began as a way to reach out and find a sense of kinship became even more isolating for me as a writer.- yes and I think the answer is in what you said next; being honest with yourself and living and writing from that truth. I’m sorry to hear you were laid up. Hoping your truth re-emerges and brings a sense of restored connection along with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can I just say that I feel this “loneliness” too. I’d like to write more but I find myself battling some internal despair when I start to unpack that feeling. It’s not that I don’t have people around me, but there’s a distinct lack of people of my “tribe”, people who share my love for, and understanding of poetry. There’s little to no opportunity to have conversations.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Some writers, it seems to me, write of the dead to the unborn–people who possess an urgency to be remembered. This is their motivation.

    I write to the dead, yes. Sometimes. But what I want to do when I write is to write in and of the present moment. Is that too “Zen”?

    Now that I have been writing poetry for nearly 50 years (if one counts juvenalia), the poetry just rattles along with me. I don’t feel the need to get credibility from others (via publishing, teaching, etc.). I do need and enjoy the conversations about poetry and poems and poets, though; and like you and Sean, I feel a bit of isolation there. Especially as one ages and one’s fellow conversationalists…well…they die on you. Finding new members of the poetry “tribe” to discourse with isn’t easy.

    Which may be why I sometimes write to the dead.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “I am a Norwegian citizen. But not a Norwegian writer. I am not an American writer.” Oh I can definitely relate to this being an English-language writer (and citizen) in Switzerland. I can write and submit poems from here, technology has made that so much easier, but conversation and belonging – that I miss a great deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ren,

    On reading your thoughts, I reflected upon those moments of your joy. They were when a poet said something unexpected, something that sent your mind racing. Usually about a common experience, a common thought, long forgotten but suddenly real all over again. You’d literally gasp, and say “YES!”. We could almost here you lean in, sit up straight, excited. True conversation. Dialogue between two accomplished poets who have mutual roots from the same ancestral tree. Those moments were pure magic.

    Yes, there is a surfeit of poetry podcasts. Yes, I selfishly want more. Yes, I listened to all of yours. Some twice. That said, be you. Follow your instincts. Make conversation. Bring yourself joy. We’ll come along for the ride…



  6. Paul, thanks for finding this old post. It is good for me to read this again now. Serendipitous timing. Thank you so much for your comments. And thank you so much more for you modelling of generosity that you do on Twitter (though I am not active there now). Still considering. Still looking for joy.

    Liked by 1 person

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