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Wanted: One Serious and Stoic Poet. Happy Schmucks need not apply

Karen Rossouw

What is big and clumsy, waddles, wears revolting tent-like outfits and cannot see its feet? Why, that’s me in the final stages of gestation, of course.

Here I am, happily on my way to becoming a beach ball with legs again, crazy as a coot and drunk with a veritable Molotov cocktail of hormones … I am eight weeks pregnant and my brain is whirring along like a washing machine in spin cycle when suddenly I am overcome by a most annoying and inconsiderate bout of nausea. For some bizarre reason they call this morning sickness. It strikes at any time … like a US stealth bomber operated by a redneck marine … My lofty thoughts evaporate. I think only of not throwing up. Just a minute ago I was entertaining the most noble ideas … like where would Leonard Cohen be without misery? Selling shoes in Quebec? Writing bad cheques? A Trappist monk lost in a discotheque?

For some time I have been pondering the question of happiness and poetry. Where are all the happy poets and poems? It seems that most of us need anguish before we can open the sluices to our creative juices. There’s nothing quite like the end of a love affair to fan those literary fires and send us racing to our journals to jot down the odd verse or two. What do we write about when we are not heartbroken or overcome by great emotion? Sunsets and kittens? The healing properties of Sunday lunch? I am sure there are many happy and joyous poems out there, poems which celebrate love and life … I just can’t think of any good ones at the moment.

Picture this classified ad: “Really miserable person, tragically deceived and forgotten by Love, needed to start immediately as Poet. Drinking binges OK. Sticky end optional. Happy schmucks need not apply.”

This is, of course, my image of the archetypal poet: serious and stoic. He might wear a beret and black polo-neck and would be apt to knock back espressos while chain-smoking foul cigarillos … er … I think I have just described Che Guevara.

Well, what does a poet look like? How does a poet behave? Is she light and airy? Does she wear frothy dresses? Is she sweet like a French pastry? Can she bake a mean banana bread? Can she bench-press 300 pounds? Dance to tribal chants? Is she diurnal or nocturnal? If the poet is a man, can he fix a car? Prune the roses? Complete a tax return? Does he wear a suit and tie? May he don Bermuda shorts and a loud Hawaiian shirt and still be considered a literary genius while belting out a karaoke tune?

All of the above, I suppose. It just doesn’t seem very poetic to be frivolous or well-tanned and shapely and blonde. Imagine a supermodel poet! I can see those serious and stoic male poets licking their chops already. Or what about an executive poet? He could plot his progress as poet on a graph. Oh the horror, the horror! No, I like my poets grave and solemn or wild and mysterious and riddled with personality disorders. Heaven forbid my favourite poet should have a colour-coordinated wardrobe or follow a strict beauty regimen.

But alas, who cares about these things when you are feeling sick and about to part with your lunch? Oh Lofty Thoughts, do not abandon me! I have never heard of morning sickness inspiring wild outbreaks of verse … I am looking pale and wan, however …

My son, a 19-month-old aspiring daredevil, valiantly assists me by trying to stick his toothbrush into my nostril. I decline his kind offer. Hours seem to pass in this fashion, Mom writhing in the slimy grip of nausea, Boy being helpful (pelting moi, the Mother Goddess, with Lego blocks), but no worries, this is Life’s Grand Parade. I have floated down from the rafters of existence and am marching in the parade of motherhood, trumpets are blaring, drums are sounding, microwave ovens are bleeping, plastic toys are squeaking … this is LIFE, the stuff of poetry. Yeah.

I have no time to ponder these points or even turn a ghastly green in peace and quiet as the Boy sets off on some madcap adventure and I have to toddle after. “Coming mathter …” I exclaim in my best Igor voice and slouch off in hot pursuit of the Boy with Ants in his Pants. And while I am following the Boy I am being pursued by this pesky thing called poetry. I cannot escape the beauty of words. It skulks off into the shadows when I feel sick to my stomach, but somehow it is still there ...

Regardless of our gloom index and what we might look like as poets, we may not stop writing - whether the results are liked or disliked, deemed worthy of publication or destined to lie forgotten in drawers and suitcases. Ink is our elixir!

In poetry and in prose, in joy or sorrow, in savannah or suburb, with or without the beret and cigarillo, whether expounding the virtues of sunsets and kittens or waxing lyrical about our broken hearts … let us bow humbly before this THING that compels us to write and commit beauty to paper, to delight and incite our readers … this ungodly muse who embraces us, abandons us, confuses our narratives, knots our knickers and enslaves us to our keyboards and journals where we draw our picture of the world in verse.

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