I am in Little Rock, standing in front of capable poets. For half a minute, I wonder why I’m there. These people are smart and know the craft. They have stories, moments, events to tell.
I begin by declaring what storytellers they are and what a great storyteller our poet laureate is. I name other storytellers. However, I point out that this group is different from some storytellers: we tell our stories in poetic form.
Another poet and I do an impromptu skit. He is marvelous. He pretends to be a poet who fears putting his poetry out there for his critique group to read. I pretend to be his muse. He has a change of heart and decides to try to offer his poem to his poetry group, perhaps at the next meeting.
The audience applauds. They identify with the internal struggle of a poet.
It is then that I confess. I tell them what I do not put on resumes. I tell them how I feel like an imposter poet at times.
I have their total attention.
It’s all true. I feel like an imposter at times. Being a poet and claiming it feels unreal. I guess it’ll always be this way, because I now have four books in print and the feeling persists.
I love reading that Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, and Ted Kooser reworked poems at least 40 times, or even for four months. What hope that gives me! Those poets are the real deal, and they have acknowledged that it takes both time and editing to produce their best work. I love that. They gave themselves permission to be poets and to be human. Each of them struggled. Just human stuff. Illnesses slowed a couple of them down but did not stop them. It is because they were and are ordinary, painfully ordinary, that others can relate to them.
I am painfully ordinary. Hey, I’ve got that one down! That has always been me. Never did I feel pretty or smart. How I got a date to a prom or three post-high school degrees remains a mystery to me.
My ordinariness paid off when I became a school teacher and later, a mental health counselor. I had certificates to prove my abilities, but the ordinary is what I understood about other people. It was easy to not judge their situations or difficulties.
Believe it or not, the people in the room continue to listen to me.
I tell them how I think I was always a poet, but I was the last to know. I claimed it long before I knew it in my soul.
I owe myself an apology, of course. I was wrong about so much. In fact, so much of my childhood, my history, prepared me to be a poet, a storyteller. Poets don’t just happen. They grow into it. I think God gave me all those experiences to prepare me to write poetry. I had no idea what was going on. Now that makes me smile. It’s good that I didn’t know what was going on. It unfolded just as it should have. By the time I got to poetry, I was hungry and thirsty for it.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “The credit belongs to the person in the arena, whether he wins or loses.” I see that in my own life. I just have to show up.
My urging to the Poets Roundtable of Arkansas is to get in the arena. I want them to put their poems out there, wherever they can. They have wonderful stories and things to say in poetic form. And we, as people, need their words.
More was said, of course, but my main point was to invite poets to get in the arena with other poets and with me.
My editor/critiquer/friend is one of my head cheerleaders. Always, I can count on Alathea Daniels to say, “You can do this.” Thank you, Alathea.
If you write, quilt, or saw boards, you need someone who reminds you, “You can do it.”
P.S. I thank you for any Comments, any Shares.
Pat Durmon, muse, and Harding Stedler, poet, in a skit that took place at the gathering of Poets of the Roundtable of Arkansas for Poetry Day in Little Rock, on Saturday, October 13, 2018. Photographer: Laura Bridges, poet.