When I told my parents that I was going to study poetry in college, they didn't flinch. It wasn't a curve ball. They weren't keeping their fingers crossed that I'd go to medical school. Their dreams of having a financially stable daughter were not shattered. That's because my parents never had that dream for me. For as long as I can remember, I wrote poetry. I was the intense kid in sixth grade English class who used too many adjectives and shared too much personal information whenever given the opportunity. I had no shame getting up in front of the class and reading aloud my three page poem about the monotonous despair of being a trite snowflake.
For most students, library was a time to nap or feel each other up in-between the bookshelves. For me, it was my time to sneak off and hole up with a book of poetry that used fancy words for private parts and made cuss words sound beautiful. (e.e. cummings was particularly good at only thinly disguising obscene sex acts.) And so by the time I was old enough to be applying for college, my parents knew what to expect. I wouldn’t be raking in the big bucks and sending them off on birthday vacations to Florence. Instead I’d have student loans weighing me down for the next 30 years, I’d incur fees for late rent and call often to cry about rejection letters. But that was OK with them. They knew that poetry was a tool and a vessel for me. And though majoring in poetry might not make my post college life easy, it would enrich my life boundlessly.
Leaving the bubble of parental encouragement and in-school affirmation, I quickly learned that the rest of the world straight up doesn't get it. Here are 10 questions I’m most sick of answering:
That's a major?
Yes, it's a real major. Not all schools offer it, but many small or private schools with strong writing programs offer a concentration in poetry.
Isn't poetry dead?
Poetry is immortal. It doesn't show off like thick novels do. It sits back in its place on the bookshelf, waiting for its people. Poetry is patient and timeless, immune to fads and trends.
But what do you do for money?
Fine, you got me there. I can't support myself fully on poetry. I have to write prose to pay the bills but I never went into poetry hoping to get rich. I chose poetry because I can't get enough of it.
You must be good at rhyming!
I'm not a rapper and I don't write limericks or nursery rhymes. Sure there are poets who rhyme, some of which I greatly admire. But poetry and rhyming are not synonymous. I personally avoid it at all costs.
Who are you favorite poets? Emily Dickinson? Robert Frost? John Keats?
Yes, of course I love and respect the greats, but I couldn't recite a Dickinson poem off the top of my head, nor would I want to. The best part of about being a poetry major is that you get to explore the unfamiliar work of international poets and niche poets and contemporaries.
What do you write about?
To me, that is as absurd as asking a banker what numbers he uses. I write about everything! I use all words! Love, heartache, despair, bliss, freedom, anxiety, serenity, nature, machines, elements, family, foes, food. I write about whatever I'm thinking about and I'm happy to say my thoughts are not limited to a subject or genre.
Your thesis must have been so easy!
No, 50 pages of poetry surely took me just as long to complete as the 100 pages of prose the fiction writers had to complete. Just because poems can be short in length does not mean they are light. I can easily spend days working on a single line. A complete poem is an algorithm. Every word must be precisely placed and stated.
You're not going to end up like Sylvia Plath, are you?
If you're referring to her body of work and career, I sure hope so. Because how would you feel if I picked someone who committed suicide if your field of work and asked if you were going to end up like them?
You must drink a lot.
Please let go of whatever Hemingway fantasy you have. Writers are no more tortured than anyone else. We're just brave enough to express it. And for the record, I don't drink at all.
Do you ever read real books?
I assume by real book you mean novel. I'll overlook how offensive that is and remind you that poets are not niche, exclusive freaks. We love literature and read whatever we like. We also watch movies, listen to music, leave the house, and wear colors.