Poet moves upstate

I lost my poet’s voice after ten years of publishing pieces in small presses. I no longer liked the whiny, yearning man my poems depicted. There were still turns of phrase, acute observations, and strings of words that had music to them, but the overarching sentiment was no longer something I cared for.

I’d once pegged my future life to poetry, having moved on from a year and a half in Alaska post-college to admissions to several topnotch poetry MFA programs around the country. Should I study with William Stafford or Stanley Kunitz, Galway Kinnell or Allen Ginsberg?

I chose New York City because my friends were there. I rode the subway incessantly, scribbling observations, word-plays, internal and external rhythms and rhymes. I had a plan to rewrite Dante using the MTA as my Virgil. Once I lost a large notebook and somehow retrieved it after several hours riding trains to retrace my steps.


I gave a public reading that drew dozens of friends, but also dozens I’d attracted via a write-up in the SoHo Weekly News.

Ginsberg said I didn’t need the MFA and its financial burdens. Kinnell said I could audit his classes and keep doing what I was doing. I joined a group of Ivy-League graduates who met weekly to discuss their writing. Many were starting to publish. Many have since had careers described by others as “writer’s writers.” We talked about what we were reading as much as what we were writing.

I carried it all upstate with me, but by then I’d sidetracked into attempts at producing Off-Off Broadway theater, writing and producing Independent film, putting on cutting-edge post-punk concerts and events. Making a living. living a life.

I lived alone to concentrate. Started to make money as a small-town journalist.

Lost my voice.

Over the years I’ve found myself losing other things, as well. I’ve walked into major galleries where everything post-Impressionist looked like blurs to me. For years I couldn’t read fiction. Then I couldn’t read non-fiction.

Will my fickleness have left me with no accomplishments?

Got to keep busy. I have deadlines to meet. And notebooks yet to fill.

I’m working now on the poetry and art of living, I guess. I hope.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.