I became a poet for more or less the same reason everybody else did: I’m lazy and I wanted to sleep late. That was the job description. You get to sleep late, drink late and most people won’t ever find out you’re stupid because what you do is beyond comprehension anyway – your roots are in some ephemeral world on the other side of everything and poetry is not supposed to be understood anymore than flowers (that’s why so many poems are about flowers – flowers rarely return the favour).
I’d read books about poets. They were absent-minded and sentimental – check. They liked drinking and smoking – check. They read a lot of books, but in schools they were flunkies – check. They loved nothing more than lounging about – I remember hearing the Icelandic poet Sjón (I think it was him) say that 90% of a poet’s job consisted of sitting at cafés talking about shit. Double-check.
It all seemed so easy. You don’t need any formal education and nobody can say (without a doubt) that what you do sucks. It’s all a matter of taste, and anyways, most poetry doesn’t even get noticed, let alone deemed good or bad. And poems are short. It takes years to write a novel. You can write a 60-page poetry book in a decent afternoon. At some point I, and my friend (and poet) Steinar Bragi, calculated that we could technically write 10,000 poetry books in one year. Most of which would be better than most of what we were reading.
And some years later, if you’re lucky, you get a government stipend and get sent to exotic countries to read onstage and lounge about with like-minded (lazy) individuals and being admired by people who wish they were as good at being lazy as you are.
If you’re a loser, a drunkard, if you’re mean to people – it’s all a part of the game. Poets are supposed to be alcoholic, rude and emotional, self-centred (wo)manizers – people love it! It means they are really gifted; they’ve seen the depths of hell and are reporting back (to offer up one cliché on the matter).
I’ve been a (serious) poet now, with intermittent jobs, for about a decade. And let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I used to be a slacker. (Wo)Man, I was king of the slackers. I could hardly be bothered to keep up with a conversation, let alone participate in one. But times have changed. I haven’t had three consecutive days without working in years. My day starts at eight in the morning and sometimes stretches past midnight. You know that time just before you fall asleep and all the weirdest thoughts in the world seem to crowd your mind? Well, that’s the most important time of the day for a poet. One has to keep vigil. Stay concentrated. And woe to him who falls asleep, for he will lose. (What he loses is not certain, but he loses nonetheless). And still you have to get up at eight because there’s stuff to be done, deadlines to be met.
In two and a half months I’m going to start my paternity leave, and I’m scared shitless. In ten years I’ve managed to go from aspiring sentimental loser to neurotic workaholic. I’m not worried about having nothing to do – babies are work, that much I do know. But I don’t know what’ll happen if I leave poetry alone for three whole months. Will it wither and die without me? Will I start writing in secret? Locking myself in the bathroom to scribble a hurried poem? Will the authorities find out and punish me (I’m not supposed to be working while receiving government money).
Babies are inspiring. They will not be ignored. They induce sleeplessness, which induces creativity. I’m headed for disaster. In short, I’m not sure if I know anymore what to do with myself if I’m not working.
Besides, whatever happened to becoming a loser? That was a fine and noble plan. Had I been lounging about for the last 10 years, perhaps I’d feel totally rested and relaxed and ready to face the challenge of getting up in the middle of the night to change diapers. Or perhaps I’d be totally out of shape, with cirrhosis of the liver, still mopping floors for a living, whining about never getting anything done.
And despite all the neurotic worrying, I’m as psyched as the next guy about becoming a dad. It’ll be peaches and blueberries, all day long until he becomes a teenager (at which point I’m sending him to military school).