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Even Poets Question Themselves

Carl Nelson

Am I a fraud?

It’s the question most every poet asks … a “look in the mirror under florescent lights” kind of thing, a scrutiny fueled by fear and courage.

If you’re a poet, and you haven’t pondered your own authenticity, don’t get cocky. You will. Self-interrogation is part of the art. But there’s hope.

When you’re under that blinding bulb, tied to a chair and sweating, remember why you wrote that first magical poem. The real one.

Not the poem you composed for fifth-grade class; not the tear-stained verse you penned after a breakup. I mean the poem you wrote when you didn’t have to. When life seemed good. The poem you wrote because no other form would do, not fiction, not a journal entry.

It had to be poetry because you knew, somehow, that you were at this moment infiltrating the centuries-old poetic conversation, pushing your chair up to the table. Because, for you, no other form pierces essence, asks the toughest of questions. Why this? Why now? So what?

In London, doing academic research at the British Library, I awoke one morning hearing a string of words, echoes from some dream. I realized they were trying to be a poem, and I copied them down.

Walking the streets, I held them like a beacon, shining above the crowds, like a secreted love-letter I could revisit at will.

I never finished it, that poem, but I got its message. Wake up, Susan. Here’s something real.

I’m Susan Porterfield, and that’s my perspective.

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