Is Poetry Dead?

When you’re 5, people ask you what you want to be when you grow up, and no matter what your answer is, they will encourage you.

I learned the hard way that that is not the case when you’re 17.

I was on my first college visit, facing death by firing squad white knuckling a folder full of paperwork and answering questions during my panel interview. I knew the question was coming and I didn’t know how to answer it:

“What career do you plan to pursue?”

I hesitated but my voice was clear. “I want to be a poet.” The entire room erupted in laughter. My face flushed, but I wasn’t surprised by their response. It was a naive goal and I knew it.

But that was the honest answer.

When they finally stopped giggling, they said that of course I could pursue poetry, but I would definitely need to be more adaptable and learn to write more than just poetry. I didn’t need to be told that, but I forced a smile and nodded, praying the blush would fade from my cheeks quickly.

Three years later, at a different school, I enrolled in a poetry workshop. Every week, the 6 of us shared our poems and gave each other honest feedback. In that class, I wasn’t the painfully shy and timid girl I was everywhere else. I could talk for hours about what was working and not working in my classmates’ poems.

The following year, I graduated, having double-majored in economics and English, with a creative writing concentration to boot. I had my practical degree and my degree that would help me follow my dreams.

And a month later, I got my $100 check for winning a poetry competition.

Since then, I’ve bounced from one dead-end job to the next. I scribbled a few poems here and there, but the bills come first. You have to fulfill your obligations before your dreams. And the longer I waited, the more impossible it seemed. Even my “practical degree” wasn’t delivering.

My reserves were depleted.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I went to a poetry workshop at the library that was led by a local poet. It was more nerve-wracking than the panel interview. I had to read my poem twice because they couldn’t hear me the first time. My hands were shaking and I was almost crying, but they all said they loved it.

Last week, I went back to the library for a one-on-one with a different poet. It was supposed to be a critique of one poem. She ended up reading about 5 and instead of circling things to change, she just underlined the things she loved and told me to get to work on getting published.

I went through every resource she gave me. I bookmarked every writing contest, checked out every writing group, and researched the publishing history of my favorite poets. Then, like a good student, I went back to the library.

There were the latest issues of Writer’s Market and The Writer – all of those things that tell you where you could get your poetry published. But where was Poetry magazine, where was any journal or magazine at all that would publish poetry? I went to the main branch. Same story.

In desperation, I went to the closest bookstore, and I have never felt so grateful to a Barnes & Noble in my life. They had an entire wall of poetry and I left the store with a list of ten magazines to research.

So, no, poetry isn’t dead.

I probably won’t be the next Billy Collins, but I have to believe I will be somebody. I can still be a poet.

via Daily Prompt: Deplete

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7 thoughts on “Is Poetry Dead?

  1. Nope. Poetry is not dead. I also wanted to grow up to be the next John Keats (but without think I died a failure) since I was a little kid. I’ve been writing for the last 14 years in a few different forms, but poetry always took priority. I was published, won a contest every now and again, and even made a modest amount of money. Very very modest. I never fucking stopped and don’t plan on it. And the hard work is starting to pay off. I have a few potential jobs coming up. They sought me out, I couldn’t fucking believe it. I still get rejected daily but sometimes, I don’t! I wouldn’t have it any other way. Never stop. Keep poetry alive. Good luck to you!

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      1. Hard work always will. Sometimes, you just need to be patient. I looked over your page and you’re a very well-rounded writer! I see you have your hands in a bit of everything. I’m the same way. 99% of my writing doesn’t end up on my blog. I doubt my readers want to hear about The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Game Theory as economic theory. But still, it’s a blast.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Aw, thank you!

        Writers are generally curious people, so it makes sense that our interests all over the place. 🙂

        Eh, I would read it! We talked about game theory in my intermediate micro class. Good times.

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  2. Love this post. Love reading how you faced your “firing squad” with eyes open and a solid knowledge of your answer, unswayed by their faces and responses. Not easy to do at any age; at 17? Not sure I would have fared so well. You sound very disciplined and determined; pretty valuable traits. Keep on writing.

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