The title of the work defines its contents: This is not Kingston celebrating herself as a poet; rather, it is her own journalistic “how to” study based on personal efforts. Ironic, witty, self-deprecating, and at the same time mocking the pretensions of the academic establishment, this work must be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for its prose sections have driving poetic rhythms that will be missed in silent readings. Based on her 2000 William E. Massey Lectures at Harvard, To Be the Poet proclaims Kingston’s wish as she moves toward retirement to finish the long-running prose books that have consumed her energies and her life as she has crafted them in every spare moment, writing and rewriting to force them to say exactly what she means. Instead, in defiance of the Western tradition of the suffering poet, she asserts a very Chinese conception of poetry, one expressed playfully and teasingly: to relax, be happy, and write short, easy poems that flow naturally from the spirit and need not bear the marks of hours of self-imposed slavery to the computer.
In the first section, “I Choose the Poet’s Life,” she asserts that poets do as they please, unconfined by the rules and strictures that restrain prose writers. A poet’s day is “gladsome”; a poet’s life is that of a “skylark,” not a “workhorse.” When she takes a day off from work, she proclaims herself to be “already acting like the Poet.” She looks forward to...
(The entire section is 556 words.)