Friday, November 21, 2008

I know you've heard this one.

When people ask you "so, what kind of poetry do you write?"

... how do you answer them?

Not other poets, mind. When someone who's a serious poet asks me something like that (though they usually phrase it in a more helpful manner), usually we have enough of a shared vocabulary that I can talk about the central concerns & projects of my work and have a somewhat interesting conversation.

But when someone who's either a casual/occasional writer of poems, or who doesn't write poems at all, asks ... what do you say?

I'm really curious. Thanks!


Lyle Daggett said...

It drives me crazy when people ask me that question. To me it seems like such a weird question. I don't think a poet (a serious working poet) has ever asked me that, only people who don't write (and maybe don't much read) poems.

Sometimes I'll say something like "I write poems about things going on in the world, things in my life, people I know..." and sort of let it trail off. That usually answers the question enough that they move on.

W.H. Auden told an interviewer once -- this was in the later years of Auden's life -- that when people asked him what he did, he usually would just say "medieval historian," which he said was usually enough to stop the conversation, and they would leave him alone.

(I may actually have told the thing above about Auden here before -- I'm pretty sure I've told it in someone's comment box at some point, so pardon if I'm repeating. But does seem relevant.)

And -- and this is just too good, I swear I'm not making this up -- word verification is "afreak."

Collin Kelley said...

Even worse is "what's your poetry about?" Lately, I've been answering with "politics and whores." That usually shuts them right up. And it's true.

I usually say "confessional" and when someone asks what that is (because they do), I say "Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds."

Karen J. Weyant said...

The "good" kind? Seriously, I usually say that I write about the working-class world, but my poetry has actually expanded beyond that narrow definition, so I guess that statement is no longer true, either.

Pamela said...

"The kind Hallmark doesn't."

That's my answer and I'm sticking to it.

poetwithadayjob said...

I totally need an answer for this too! Usually, I preemptively avoid situations which might beg someone to ask such a question...recently, I mistakenly announced at the work lunch table that I was nominated for a Pushcart...then it was "what kind of poetry do you write!"

UGH. I said "narrative, mostly." They have no idea. If it wasn't mixed company, I would have flatly said "It's very gay."

RJGibson said...

Usually I ask if they mean what do I write about...that's been the usual question (despite not being what they asked) they want answered. So I say "sex and death and plants but not necessarily in that order."

If they actually do want to know I say "some form, mostly free-verse, short."

The absolute worst, though is from people who write inspirational verse and then proceed to recite it from memory at me.

Anne said...

Thanks, you guys! Collin, I would totally steal yours, but I suspect I would get busted. ;)

I've taken to saying "uh, free verse, mumble mumble mumble" and if they press I just mostly say it doesn't rhyme. Oddly, that usually gets them to change the subject.

Radish King said...

I tell them I'm a musician then I run away. Works every time.

Jessie Carty said...

I love Pamela's answer!

But outside of poets I don't think anyone has ever asked me.

I think if someone did ask me I'd probably say I lean towards narrative.