To be or not to be (a poet)

I started writing poetry before I entered first grade. I come from a long line of compulsive rhymesmiths and was first in line to carry the torch to the next generation.

I chronicled every birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s day in occasional verses full of painfully repetitive rhyme words. Once in a while, a poem born of my own imagination would come along too. Poetry was currency in my cash-strapped childhood and I kept writing several poems a week until I reached the age of self-consciousness, and a Saturday job in a bargain basement gave me enough money to buy “real” gifts.

I returned to poetry in my early twenties, during a personal crisis, and wrote what I thought was a collection over a few months–about 60 poems that made me feel gutted after writing them.

I had read a lot of poetry between my childhood attempts and this collection, but I only had a vague notion of what made a good poem good.

I was completely unprepared for the three rejections I received, one after the other. The kind notes the editors added, recommending I keep working and editing these poems, felt like a death sentence. I abandoned any hope of becoming a poet and put down my pen for more than twenty years.

When I returned to writing, more than twenty years later, I knew I could never be a poet. I was writing in a different language at this point, and poetry had to be written in your heart language, your mother tongue, I thought. Even as the fiction and nonfiction I wrote got more lyrical, I held on to this idea: I am not a poet, though I love poetry.


About a year ago, I felt an attraction to the haiku practice. The first attempts were so-so, but gradually my eye for what I could do with the form, with balance and twists, got better. A daily practice allows you to grow and to go back and improve something you wrote last month. Soon, I started venturing into other poetry as well.

At the end of October of this year, I had my 6th poem published, and for the first time it reached out to a much wider audience than my previous publications. It was shared again and again on social media and I received messages about how it made people feel. It was dizzying.

I still don’t consider myself a capital P Poet. To me that’s a title that feels almost sacred. But I practice poetry. By practising and returning to my poems to make them better, I’m learning to be patient with my writing. Maybe in time, I’ll feel I’ve become a poet.

I’ll be reading my poetry in November, as part of a reading series at Glad Day Bookstore in Toronto. It’s part of my practice to become a poet.

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