To aspiring Poets
What Seamus Heaney forgot to tell you
is that after such digging, you'll find only
a perpetual state of frustration and a used Subaru Legacy.
There will certainly be no gold. But
if you cannot resist the urge to hear the Sirens,
make sure that they use enough rope, and listen:
it is better if you suffer profoundly at that age
when you can observe, but not understand.
If you are not so lucky and find yourself with only
Disney vacations, good private schools, and Fourth of July
fireworks to work with,
compensate by setting goals that you know you can't achieve.
President, billionaire, cancer-curer. It is crucial that you fail at all of these.
Write about the pain, the disillusionment, the alienation of
not becoming a billionaire president who cures cancer. The
pain is a red-hot arrow piercing your side, a choking blue jay
dying amongst smog-riddled air, a chair with only three legs
and one arm.
It is best if you
first write about these in a villanelle or sonnet form. Count
the syllables, check the rhymes. Pretend to like reading more
than you actually do. Convey to everyone your disdain of
merger and acquisition lawyers, for it
will earn you respect from your teachers. Drink and get
high as much as possible. It is possible that you are a
Coleridge or a Ginsberg – perhaps you are just one vision
away from stardom. When you find out that you are not, get
high anyways – it will help you ignore those
law school applications that your mother keeps sending you.
In your workshops, write on everyone’s drafts, “There are
some nice images, but the poem moves out of itself too fast.”
Keep a secret list of phrases that you would like to
steal: “Quiet smolder,” “shrieking hello,” “splintered beads of
tears.” Much later, your most popular poem will be based on
the last of these – the original poet will be a pediatrician in
Carbondale and will not read it.
Champion causes that do not personally affect you. Fight for
the poor, the hungry, the huddled masses
until you are one of them. Write
poetry that is secretly prose in broken lines, and sneak in
occasional internal rhymes and imagery to fool the professor.
When caught, smile sheepishly and call it “experimental.”
But despite all this, you will found out too soon
that you never wanted to write poetry,
that you just wanted to be a poet, and that the Subaru
Legacy has terrible transmission, and only two cup holders.
Jesung Lee graduated from Penn in 2016.