By: Philip Harker
Poetry has a way of polarizing people. Not in an artistic way, or a way that causes debate about literary analysis, but in a much more tangible way. Personally, I have found one of two reactions when I ask someone for their opinion on poetry.
The first: “Ugh. Poetry.” For many, poetry reminds us of sitting in a swelteringly hot Grade 10 classroom, listening to a teacher wax on about a dead white guy that no one– neither the instructor nor their students– cares about.
The second: “Ooh, poetry!” There are plenty of people around us, even those who one might not suspect, who have an obsession with the medium. These people (who are generally in the minority) often tend to be poets themselves. Dig a little deeper, and you will find plenty of unlikely poets: engineers with notebooks full of verses, lawyers with shelves of poems, football players who do slam poetry once a week. Poets, it seems, are all around us.
I set out with a question. Who are the poets of our time? What is it that drives them to create in a world that’s already crammed with creations? As a non-poet, this was never something I would be able to answer myself. Fortunately, a few poets were willing to share some of their insights about the world of poetry.
Katie is a 4th year at St. Michael’s College. As a student of English and History, she’s in the business of breaking down words and deciphering what they mean. She’s been analyzing poetry since high school, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that she began writing poems herself.
“I didn’t begin writing poetry until halfway through my second year, after I spent an afternoon in my town’s library perusing collections by various poets. [My English Professor’s] lectures allowed me to understand how the poems were working, why they were effective, various conventions being used, etc, and so I decided to write a couple of poems.”
For Katie, poetry has become an academic interest. Since discovering the likes of T.S. Elliot and Sylvia Plath, Katie has successfully published a number of poems in major journals, including the Trinity Times’ sister publication, the Trinity Review.
Not all poets find their inspiration from the works of other authors though. I got a few words in with a 3rd year polymath from University College who asked to remain anonymous. He’s a poet, but he’s also a musician, a songwriter, a podcaster, a music video producer, and more.
“I think I started writing little raps and freestyling with my friends when I was like 11 and started taking it seriously when I was roughly 13, 14 in the sense that I started recording things on the computer and never really posting them, just having them for myself.”
It seems like poets can come from all backgrounds and all walks of life. It’s hard to make a blanket statement about today’s creators of poetry. Katie and Anonymous are on opposite ends of a spectrum, with Katie being formally educated in concepts like rhythm and analysis and meter and Anonymous being self-taught in the pursuit of, as he puts it, turning “little words into big ideas.”
This doesn’t answer my question though. These two people are just two poets in a near-infinite sea of millions, past, present, and future. What are the odds that their work will go down with the other great poets in the history books?
To my surprise, both of them were confused when I posed this question. To them, poetry was never really a competition. Anonymous, despite his creative habits, pretty much only makes things for his friends, or friends of friends. Katie went as far to argue that being competitive with poetry severely limits her from “learning and appreciating others’ works, advice, et cetera.”
If you are an amateur poet, maybe these personal accounts on the medium might be helpful to you. Katie and Anonymous, though they both agree it would be nice if they could create poetry professionally, are being very careful not to let the competition for gigs and journals destroy their passion. For them, poetry is a hobby. A form of therapy. If that sounds like you, be careful not to lose sight of your love for the written verse.
There will always be other creators. Some of them will not be as good as you, and some of them will be better than you. But if you choose to focus purely on the competitive side of creation, you risk burning out and destroying your passion for the hobby. So get out there, stop focusing on other people, and never stop creating things.