I was over at the Harriet blog and got to thinking about Sina Queryas entries on unexpected poet paths, that road that it seems so many take into being poets. Granted, I do know alot of poets who have gone the teaching route, and some of them have been lucky enough to hit alot of steps on the ladder--MFA/Ph.D, the book publication (sometimes even before the degree), a full-time college teaching position, some nifty prizes and accolades. Alot of them definitely even have a passion for teaching, which no doubt makes it the absolutely right path for them to have taken.
I, on the other hand, am a horrible teacher, something that I tried to fight for the longest time, and eventually just gave into. Perhaps it is a combination of a number of things--a touch of social anxiety disorder that makes me not even want to deal with people at all some days (bad if you have a classroom full of students who need you to teach them something). A lack of patience and leadership skills, a bit of control-freakiness, a bit of selfishness.. For years when I was finishing up my BA and well into my MA in Lit, I kept trying so hard to want to do it. My mother expected me to do it. Everyone expected me to do it. What else was I going to? What else was I qualified to do? I'm convinced this unease was what partially brought about the great emotional meltdown of February 1998. Of course, about a year later, the poems started coming like crazy and I knew that the only sane thing to do was to give up on something I was obviously never going to enjoy doing and find something I would. (which ended up landing me in library jobs). But still my path as a poet, even the teaching thing aside is far from that supposedly expected one.
I initially started publishing alot of work early on in online journals, back in the day when people still scoffed a little at their legitimacy (sadly some people still do.) I still submit to online journals far more these days, mostly because I think they reach a greater potential audience, but also because I'm lazy and impatient--I don't like having to use snail mail, nor do I like all those SASE's floating around for months. I've also self-published a number of smaller projects, another no-no as I am continually reminded whenever I dare open my mouth about it in public (even with friends). I always felt like an odd bird in my MFA program, where most people were just starting to send stuff out and I had been doing so for at least a decade, and apparently according to some, doing everything wrong. Of course, while questioning the necessity of the things I was supposed to want, it didn't stop me from wanting them and sometimes still do, perhaps the vestiges of a weird desire for validation. At some point, though, while prizes and honors and trendy press publications are nice, I became more interested in connecting with readers, if only a few, and how to go about doing that. The whole notion of "success" they are talking about at the Harriet blog, I think hinges on the writers ability to connect with their audience, and while of those things (prizes, accolades, juicy book contracts) further the possibility of that, they are not essential in any way to the work I, or anyone else does. Perhaps it's a simple statement on their being no right or wrong way to be a poet as long as you are creating and finding your audience whoever they may be and however many rules you have to break to do it.