The first role of the poet is to be an honest map-writer. Somehow, the poet has to be someone you instinctively feel you can trust — someone who doesn’t give you bullshit — someone who tells it like it is, even if what s/he says is a challenge because it is not currently a familiar part of your own reality. The poet draws maps with his or her poems; and, as an honest map-writer, the true poet always determines to be self-aware; and a self-aware person is a trustworthy one.
The second role of the poet is to lift up the hood of your heart and show you things which have been hidden too deeply or for too long. A true poet is an unwitting therapist whose self-probings are yours too. His or her honesty always shines a signpost torch into the nooks and crannies of the lives of others.
The third role of the poet is to dare to go where others hesitate to tread. In this sense, the poet is an avant-garde pioneer — a forerunner — who conquers all fears or, at the very least, walks straight into them, so that others can follow and also thus be freed from all limitations and constraints.
The fourth role of the poet is to expose injustice and unrighteousness. The poet is the ultimate investigative journalist who leaves no stone unturned on his or her travels. There is nothing that s/he will not explore and s/he will use all available resources in a spirited attempt to right the wrongs of the world.
The fifth role of the poet is to be a purveyor of joy and beauty. There is a paradox here in that, although the poet may often have to speak of melancholy matters, or in gritty ways, somehow s/he always manages to convey an essential rejoicing in the spirit of life and love — even in the way s/he handles the words used, or meter, or rhyme, or rhythm, or sheer alliterative glee, there is that sense of caring enough to say it. However much it may seem to the contrary, the poet is a person in love with beauty, life and letters, even if s/he is on the brink of suicide. What a paradox!
The sixth role of the poet is to reanimate the human imagination — to see beauty where there may appear to be none, to find depth when there may only appear to be shallows, to discover the as-yet unseen. Whereas the visual artist already provides ready-made pictures (though these also stimulate the imagination; but in different ways), the verbal artist allows the reader (receiver) to paint their own blank canvas according to their inner needs. The human imagination is a major component in the fashioning of one’s life direction. Thus, the poet — having also wildly empowered his or her own imagination — is a vital catalyst for the personal growth and change of all.
The seventh role of the poet is to eschew fame and fortune as the guiding lights of his or her journey. The poet’s only touchstone should be the desire to reach into hearts. If a poet thinks s/he *needs* the approval of others — whether they be peers, dignitaries, nobles or princes — or primarily seeks personal gain through his or her works, then that poet is not a worthy representative of the Muse. For the poet is (and must always be) the paragon of conscious self-sacrifice.
© Alan Morrison, 2013