“Are you a poet?”


I was attending Poetry on the Move, an annual festival in Canberra that celebrates poetry and poets of the world. A recognised poet asked me that inevitable question. I’d told her how much I’d enjoyed her performance the previous night, and she seemed pleased. Either that, or she was so articulate and polite to acknowledge, without betraying any of the weariness that comes with being a popular poet, with the hundreds of people telling them how great their work is. Oh well, just another day.

Then she popped the question. I was stumped.

I don’t call myself a poet. When I share a piece with my writers group, I say dub it a “poem” or a free-style-poetry-thing. I’ve never felt enough to call myself a poet. Or a writer. 

When people ask what I do for a living, I say I’m a copywriter.

Even though it triggers conversations I’d rather swivel away from, it’s also a digestible way to avoid admitting the twelve hours I spend in a day on a computer… writing. Copy for websites, blogs, articles, ads, and whatnot, gleaning whatever time I can get to write the snappier, shorter stuff that pleases me: self-declared haiku, short stories, and the occasional “poetry”.

“I just—write stuff.” 

The poet smiled, letting it reach her slender eyes, perched elegantly on the edge of her blemish-free face. So unlike my own sunken ones.

She respected my insecurity.

However, she did mention later that we’re all poets, regardless of where or how or how much work we’ve published, introducing me to another as a poet, shooting a thrill down my spine. I smiled and let the statement wash over me, unregistering its impact.

Later, mulling it over, as I do everything these days, I straightened, my gut clenching, the tiniest sense of pride creeping up my face. And I fought to contain the idea lapping my heart: me a poet. 

Do I dare?

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