And equally, on the other side, the same applies for some forms of prose. Is prose poetry really prose? Is it really poetry? Is a flash fiction piece really fiction? Are internet pieces constructed by multiple participants really to be considered pieces of legitimate fiction? If a tree falls in the woods ...
I seem to find myself defending the writer, especially the poet, in me all the time. I find this amazing since I write in all of the genres listed above and have also tried my hand at plays, screenplays, video scripting, technical writing and journalism. Let's not leave out blogging and tweeting since these are new forms that are now being published and translated into TV shows and movies. But I have become overly sensitive about telling people about my work, especially as a poet.
I define myself as a writer, not as a writer of a particular form. I have written in these many areas simply because I love to write. Any time I get the chance to write something, I take the job. I don't like being boxed in by a label. Don't like being restricted by someone else's idea of who I am or what category I should be shoved into. I believe writing is expression and it is my decision to decide which form of expression best suits a particular subject.
If I tell people I am a poet, they will roll their eyes from some preconceived notion grown out of a horrible experience they had in middle or high school. I wonder what the reactions would be if we responded the same way to other professions. Imagine meeting a refined and dedicated heart surgeon and someone replying, "Oh, so you ONLY operate on the heart?"
I sometimes feel this off-kilter assumption about constructing poetry. Poetry can sometimes be really abstract, have limited exposition and a reaching attempt to glimpse something that is extremely elusive, subjective, and one sided. It is constructed in a way that might require some knowledge of the form to even read the line breaks as they were intended. All of this might make poetry hard to write, let alone understand. But I have seen very talented prose writers pushed to anger and frustration over even reading a poem. I wonder what is this emotional pressure point that poetry has on people? This form that so many try to disavow that can either sooth their soul, or render them to anger and frustration?
Equally, if you tell someone you are working on a novel, there's a different type of eye roll and some vague reference to everyone wanting to write "the great american novel." Or, flash fiction pieces that are less than 750 words. How can something this short be a story? Is this "real" fiction? Is the writer just taking short cuts because they are lazy?
Everyone assumes a negative posture BEFORE there is even anything read. These preconceived assumptions permeate us as writers. Making our craft all the harder for these little demeaning mumblings. And it's bad enough that people that don't write do this, but, we, as writers, have learned to do this to each other as well. We forget the "constructive" in constructive criticism and instead of listening to what the other writer is trying to accomplish, we blather crap like, use less adverbs, use less adjectives, use action words and my favorite lately, don't use too many words! All possible well meaning responses, not helpful in character development, line break construction, sentence construction, or whether the intended message even got to the reader. It's all about criticizing the mechanics from within the readers sphere of reference.
Maybe this is what drives me to rework everything I write, constantly. There is always a phrase that needs refining, word that needs replacement, or thought that can be made more concrete. I have piles of short stories and poems sitting side by side in my file cabinet, just waiting for the re-write that brings them back to life.
I really would love to see writers, in all genres, work together as an open minded community. I would like to see all of us get out from under our genre rocks and explore each other's writing in a whole new light. I would love for us to exchange the techniques that get us through the blocks and the lack of motivation and the never ending question: "will anyone read this thing that I have worked on for six, or eight, or ten days, months, or years." Because these are the things as writers we all share.
As writers, we are all relegated to the back seat anyway. Everyone wants to kill the craft. People have been proclaiming for years that poetry is dead. The novel is dead. And, now, the internet and its academics have begun to take away authorship by saying the user changes the work and makes it into something new; something that is the user's and no longer belongs to the author. So now, the author is not given (or paid) their due as the originator in a digital world because no one can agree on how the copy-write laws apply to the new ever changing medium .
We need to come together as a group, from the urban teens scrawling on subway walls, to the poets sitting under a tree, to the short story writers clacking away on their laptops, to the NY Times best selling novelists living in mansions (or at least houses bigger than mine) and all of us in between. We have to create a network, together, because times are changing. The digital age is chipping away at the copy-write we stand on, and, if we are not careful, we will be so diluted that it won't matter which genre is harder or easier to write. It won't matter the hierarchy we fall into because the future digital representation of what we were will never be as brilliant and beautiful as what we all are right now.