Things not to say to a poet

Can I make one thing very clear? I have no wish to be a hobby poet. I have nothing against hobby poets – they are, arguably, the purest artists of us all, writing for the sheer love of it, expecting no reward, other than perhaps the occasional praise of friends and family – but that’s not who I am and I get annoyed when people assume (often, I suspect, because of my age) that that’s all I aspire to.

I want to be good, not in the sense of my-friends-and-family-say-my-verse-is-good, but by any objective standards. I aspire to be respected as an equal by the best poets, to be published professionally,  to be booked to perform at the best spoken word nights. And if I thought I wasn’t really good, or at least if I thought there was no hope of my ever getting really good, I’d stop writing. And then possibly kill myself.

I can cope with people thinking I’m mediocre, but I can’t cope with people assuming I’m happy with mediocrity. These are some of the things that people say that make me want to punch them in the face repeatedly. With a metal bar.

  1. “Why does it matter if you didn’t win a slam/didn’t get booked for the spoken word night you hoped to get a slot at/got rejected by the journal you submitted to? Can’t you just enjoy poetry as a hobby?”
  2. “You did really well to qualify for the Hammer and Tongue National Final” (Implication: everybody else there was a contender who stood a chance of winning. You’re so shit, it was surprising and a huge achievement that you qualified at all)
  3. “Have you ever thought about self-publishing?” (The whole reason I want to get a book published by a reputable publisher is to prove I’m good enough to be chosen from the hundreds that apply and to use as evidence to promoters that someone other than me rates me, so I get more gigs. Suggesting I self-publish is suggesting I’m so shit that’s never going to happen.)
  4. When people overpraise me for an “achievement” which is much less than I was hoping for, suggesting that they think that is the ceiling of what I can hope to achieve (e.g. “You came 14th in a slam? But that’s BRILLIANT!” When I’m disappointed because someone I know who I think is no better than me has just been offered a national tour: “Oh, but you’ve just got an unpaid gig, at the bottom of the bill, at a poetry group in the middle of nowhere. You should be grateful for that!”)
  5. When someone who runs a spoken word night who has given a headline slot to everybody on the entire planet except me tells me they like my poetry. Well, clearly you don’t, so don’t patronise me.
  6. When someone who runs a spoken word night sees me at someone else’s event and goes on and on about how they’ve booked a mutual friend for a headline slot at their night. Seriously – this has happened to me twice in the last few months. People tell me I have no social skills, but even I realise that nobody, nobody at all, wants to listen to a ten-minute monologue on the topic of “I’ve booked your friend, not you.” The only thing I can infer is they think I am so obviously completely shit, it hasn’t even crossed their minds that I might have been hoping for a headline slot myself. I’d actually prefer it if they did it to deliberately insult me than that.

So, yeah. NEVER say any of these things to a poet, however kindly meant.