Guest Post, Patricia Caspers: 13 Ways of Looking at a Writer

Scorpio Patricia CaspersEach week I scour my twitter feed for signs of my Scorpio horoscope via Astro Poets (AKA Dorthea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov, for those two people who don’t know). Sure, I could thumb a few words into the search bar and voilà, but where’s the hunt in that? I want to scroll through my feed of poems and shiny disasters and stumble upon phrases like this recent treasure: “Never getting over being alive is poetry.”

I love the way the Astro Poets inspire me to wonder.

Here’s a Scorpio horoscope that caused me some big wondering:

“There are so many ways to look at something. There are at least 13, but also maybe more. You get into that one way and it’s strong. But is it always right— no. Start to turn the facets until you see yourself clearly again. Luck will arrive soon.”

“That one doesn’t apply to me at all,” I thought out loud the first time I read this tweet, but then I reconsidered.

Because here’s the thing: I’m a poet. That’s how I’ve defined myself since I was nine years old. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.

But here’s the other thing: Nobody else really knows it. So when I go on Twitter, and I see all the beautiful people – who are often so very much younger than me – becoming famous for their poetry, I’m happy for them. I really am. A win for poetry is a win for the world; there’s no doubt about it. But there’s a teeny place in my heart that asks, “Why not me?”

And then I am sad.

But I know why not me. Not me because I’ve written maybe a total of three complete poems in the last year, and I published all of one. I can hardly expect to have my poems recited in the next Greta Gerwig film if I don’t do the work of creating them or sending them off to poetry journals for excoriation.

OK, so I don’t really need to be a famous poet, I tell myself. I’ll be satisfied with an eclectic cult following.

I’m beginning to think that’s not happening, either.

I’m a failed poet.

Meanwhile, in the last two years I’ve written more than 100 weekly columns for my local newspapers. At one time or another every column I’ve written has also been written in the form a poem that no one read. I write about my teenage parents, my father’s drug addiction, the car wreck that took his life, my lifelong struggle with depression, the time I was too drunk to consent.

Recently my column was picked up by another news outlet in a neighboring county, and last year I was named the best columnist in the state by California News Publishers Association.
Better than that is the fact that almost daily I receive messages from readers who tell me my column is the best part of their day.

“I felt like you were telling my story,” they say.

“You are the butterfly,” they say.

“Thank you,” they say.

I’m not telling you this to brag. Well, maybe just a little; I am a Scorpio after all.

The truth is I find it all a bit baffling. All I ever wanted to be was a poet, but somehow I’ve ended up becoming a columnist instead. Clearly, I’m no Pauline Chen, but I do have what some might consider a tiny, eclectic cult following.

Still, I feel like a failed poet because every time I receive one of those messages I think, “It’s just a column. It’s not poetry.”

So I thought about my horoscope, and I considered 13 ways of looking at a writer, as well as something else Dana Levin once said, which was along the lines of this: When you find people who love your work, love them back.

Levin was talking about loving the small literary journals who love us instead of chasing the ever-elusive behemoths, which is solid advice, but maybe it also means that when people tell us we have a gift, we should believe them and love them for it – even if it’s not the gift we hoped they’d open.

Sometimes life is a trip through the constellations when we thought we were just hitchhiking across town – and that’s a kind of poetry, too.