In a recent blog post, Kathz talks about how she won a prize in a poetry competition, and of the experience of attending the prizegiving. Kath says of her poetry-writing: " I've spent most of my life trying to conceal this embarrassing little habit."
Why would someone say that? I mean someone who appreciates and understands poetry, and has learnt the craft of writing it?
Of course, I know why. I've said and thought it myself, as have several poets I know. One reason I think is that the public perception of poetry is still conditioned, after 200 years, by Romanticism, with its notion of the (largely male) poet as a being apart, which obscured the idea of poetry as a craft, and replaced it with the idea that poems were the result of a tortured or particularly sensitive soul. Naturally, it's rather embarrassing to be associated with that notion now.
But there's something else. It's common for writers to lead double-lives, maintaining a career and domestic life that is entirely separate to their poetic activities. Wallace Stevens is a classic example of this, as a successful businessmen who preferred not to discuss his poetry, and certainly kept it out if his office. Stevens famously wrote "I have no life except in poetry". In his introduction to a selected poems of Stevens, John Burnside discusses this statement, and further quotes a letter of Stevens in which he writes: "I certainly do not exist from nine to six, when I am at the office... There is no everyday Wallace, apart from the one at work, and that one is tedious.- At night I strut my individual state once more".
For myself I can say that no-one at the IT company I work for - and I've known some colleagues for many years - has any idea that I've got anything to do with poetry (unless they read this blog, which is unlikely). And I want to keep it that way. I'm not comparing myself with Wallace Stevens - it seems likely that the mental processes which produce major art are essentially the same as those that produce minor art. I'd agree with Burnside when he says, speaking of Stevens' double life, "It is a life every poet leads to a greater or lesser extent. Or, rather, it is the discipline poets must master in order to sustain that mysterious entity, a private life".
Of course, the notion of a private life is becoming more and more marginalised in our culture, but that's a discussion for another day.