I am a poet. There’s no question about that, because I have these books, you see, with my name on them. And so I am a poet. You’ll find, that’s not so funny, actually; you’ll find that it’d be very difficult for a long time after you start writing poetry and get interested in it, to have any way to verify the fact that you’re a poet. When you go to get a passport and you write down your occupation, you’d be surprised how few people ever write “poet.” When you’re sitting on the airplane next to a man with a briefcase, and you’re going to give a reading, and he’s going to a business conference, and he says to you, hello my name is Herman Bluewinkle, and you say, my name is Ted Berrigan, and he says, I’m in electronics, what do you do? And you say, I’m a poet, and he says, holy shit, man. And his eyes get completely glazed over, and he’s sure that you’re going to whip out all of your poems immediately and read them all to him. Which is the last thing that you want to do. You don’t really want to read your poems to anyone, unless a, they want to pay you for doing it, or b, they ask you to do it, or c, you’re stoned out of your brain, and you just feel like doing something like that. But at this age – I’ll be forty-two this year – there’s no question in my mind that I’m a poet, and that’s really all that I am. I’ve been a schoolteacher, a university professor; I’ve done a number of other things, too, but essentially I’m a poet; that’s my profession. In that sense, I’m a professional poet, it’s my career. Lots of people don’t like that idea, that one could be a career poet. I mean, lots of people don’t like lots of ideas, you know; that’s not really so important. Lots of people don’t like the idea of using professionalism with, in conjunction with the idea of being a poet. But … it’s like the story about John Wayne showing up on the set of one of John Ford’s movies one morning when they were about to shoot, about seven o’clock in the morning, and John Ford said to John Wayne, as they were about to shot, he said, Are you ready, Duke; do you know your lines, and John Wayne said, I’m always ready; I’m a professional. And I thought that was terrific, actually.
-- Ted Berrigan, “Incredible Masterpieces” in On the Level Everyday: selected talks on poetry and the art of living, Joel Lewis, ed., Talisman House, Publishers.
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