Speaking of poets, in an interview with Galway Kinnell (The American Poetry Review, Jan/Feb 2011, p. 7), Chard deNiord asks why he’s reluctant to call himself a poet. Kinnell replies, “A poet should not call himself a poet . . . it’s better all around if someone else declares it” ). Kinnell, who turned 84 on Feb. 1st, represents an old tradition of modesty in self-appellation that has for the most part been abandoned by younger poets. For instance, how many poets do you know who identify themselves foremost as “poet,” though they might have important day jobs? Many have even incorporated “poet” in their email addresses and business cards.
To give him his due, Kinnell, a Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur “Genius” Award winner, explains his modesty by saying that “being a poet is so marvelous an achievement” that to call oneself a poet is “boasting.” But there are so many more poets per capita than when Kinnell began writing, in the 1940’s, and the various social networks afford such ample ways to advertise oneself as a “poet,” that poet has become a vocation that multitudes, unwilling to wait for someone else to declare it, claim for themselves.