To Be the Poet- Maxine Hong Kingston

“I will be selfish. There’s a wonderful moment I have on the verge of sleep—I have nothing to do but feel my feelings, look at the pictures behind my eyes, and go to sleep. Consider no one but myself. Rest from the social responsibility of prose. Don’t care about people’s antics anymore. I will be socially irresponsible. I will be a poet.”

I’m on a Hong Kingston binge at the moment after having read (and adored) China Men. I always like reading writers who work in different genres. China Men is a book of prose and this one focuses on poetry. It was lovely and a sensitive look, a guide if you will, at how to find poetry in one’s own life. Clearly illustrated by examples from her own life as she approached her 60th birthday helps us see how she found poetry in her life. Examples from travel, culture, and autobiography.

Although I’m not planning on writing any poetry I enjoyed Hong Kingston’s thought process on how she found poetry. She included some of her own poetry too and I think it was a reminder of trying, even if your attempts fail; it’s all about using one’s creativity.

“There is no strict divide between the world and me. Shutting the eyes does not shut out the environment, and my surroundings do not replace my emotions. What I feel influences what I see, and, of course, what I see affects my feelings.”

Her views of aging reminded me of Nin. In a sense, hopeful, accepting, contemplating:

“Old people fade. The black is gone from my hair, and leaving my eyes. My angles lose definition. I will stay put. The tide will come in and in and in.”

She often writes in a questioning manner as part of her process:

“What about dreams? What about them? They blur and leap; they hide, and they reveal. They feel like poems. Except without words. There’s flight, there’s music, but few words. My people in dreams rarely converse. Can I fly to poetry via dream? Find the words for the dream and have my poem? A dream will segue so naturally into morning sometimes, I move through the day sorting what’s dream, what’s real. Awake, the task would be to put visuals, feelings, ideas, beings, into words.”

Lots of useful lessons by a very sensitive writer.


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