What does it mean to be a poet?

Many people consider poetry to be confusing language oddly scattered across a page. They believe there’s a secret code to the words, lines, rhythms, and images that they are not privy to. To some, poetry may be frustrating, nonsensical, maybe even boring.

I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a poet if I didn’t try to explain. The language of poetry may be, at times, elevated and flowery, but it can also be conversational and accessible. The lines and phrases in a poem are made with the same words you might find in a television commercial or a newspaper article, except that they are concentrated, distilled, made smaller so that the meaning can be made larger, like an elixir, like a telescopic lens. A good poem has good craft – imagery, sound, mood, form, rhythm – and good words (like grandiloquent!), but also words like brim, lilt, ache, curve, gasp, flutter, scorch, and tremble, words that reveal something more the longer you hold them in your mind.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge attempts a definition of poetry: The best words in the best order. It’s not easy to achieve that. It takes work. Poets are always working, always juggling the best words, always shifting the order around. If poets seem distracted or in another world, it might well be that they are immersed in the world of a poem, trying to build the right path for the right words to walk upon.

The poets I know exist perfectly well in our modern world, but part of them belongs to a deeper realm. It’s accurate to say poets see the world differently from others, but then, so do microbiologists, nuclear physicists, motorcycle mechanics, botanists, musicians and preschool teachers. There’s no right way to view life, only differently ways with different lenses. A poet builds a lens with words and the essence behind and within them.

So, what does it mean to be a poet? It’s no different than what it means to be anything else. Poets don’t have a monopoly on emotion, imagery or sensitivity. We just welcome all that stuff and try to write it down.