Resigning from poetry?

The Pennsylvania poet and teacher Ann E. Michael writes a consistently interesting blog, full of nature and philosophy. In her latest post, she reacts to Robert Archambeau’s collection of essays The Poet Resigns, pondering whether she too should resign from writing poetry to focus more of her creative energy on teaching and tutoring, which seems to have a more positive effect on people’s lives. Quoting from her conclusion:

So perhaps my creative energy is better served in the direction of others through tutoring than through poetry; perhaps the former leans more toward the Good. Perhaps I am a better tutor than poet; this is indeed likely, although I have been poet-ing longer than I have been teaching. Then again, not to knock the art of teaching, but writing poetry is much more difficult than the teaching I do. And I get paid to enlighten people through my tutoring.

Not so through poetry. Indeed, Mr. Archambeau—you have gotten me seriously to think about tendering my resignation as a poet, though not without considerably more reflection on the possibility. Writing about the idea has helped me to understand where the Good fits into all of this, and what the middle way might be.

Read the rest. As for me, I am as opposed to Socratic/Platonic ideas of the Good as one can get, having self-administered a heavy dose of Zhuangzi in my youth. In fact, I’m not sure if I’d like poetry nearly as much if it weren’t so ignored and considered so useless. When I see the sorts of things that the vast majority of people value, what they consider useful and worth sacrificing their own lives and the health of the planet for, I can only shake my head. I think it’s fair to say that we live in a state of mutual incomprehension.

5 Comments


  1. Ha, you ol’ contrarian, you! Skeptical about the Good, as well you should be (since whose perception about what’s good gets the prize?).

    So are you with David Orr in suggesting poetry is “beautiful & pointless”? Or are you saying that what most people think is useful/valuable is actually incomprehensible?

    I wish I possessed enough energy to be both useful and useless to the community of sentient beings. That has been the case in the past, but health issues lately have intervened…I still love poetry; reading it may be as good as writing it, though…at least for now.

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    1. I am suggesting the useless is precisely what is most useful; if poetry is pointless, everything is pointless. But I am also enough of a Confucian to deeply honor the teaching profession. I can’t speak to your dilemma since I don’t share it, but I do know what it’s like to be stretched too thin.

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      1. Yeah–it’s the stretching too thin that is at issue. How does one find the middle way between too thinly-stretched ends? My current dilemma, as I honor both (poetry and teaching). Frankly, to judge by my salary, the college administration doesn’t consider my job all that useful either!!

        I agree, by the way, that poetry is far from pointless. And I agree that poetry is useful–good lord, decidedly so. My question is whether my particular contributions to poetry are all that useful. Or is that my Protestant-ethic humility rearing an ugly head?

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        1. I would say that it only matters to the writer for the writer, the being of use. The rest is icing.

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  2. Being a poet, what I would label a real poet, is as much a part of an individual as is breathing. Having such creative muses inside and seeking an outward expression of this, is what creates great teachers. Until a person can express themselves confidently in any particular area one does not really master a subject of learning–if ever such mastery ever really exists.

    The goodness or not…is honestly ridiculous to me. I crashed there and thought that I have missed something in the reading. I could not find my place from the context.

    I am sitting here wondering how you might have garnered such an idea and then twisted it so to believe (or perhaps only to assert) that good and altruism must be twisted to mean a lack of self expression so as to be a drudge dread servant to others. Is work and worth measured by the work-ethic?! It is curious to me why it seems there is an either/or choice.

    My inner mouth has fallen open in surprised indignation! I have written WHILE tutoring…what is the problem? hehe Silly me, my own opinion about what you ought to do matters not. I simply wonder at the presentation and reasoning. I enjoy pondering.

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