When Do I Become a Poet?

When do I become a poet?

The stamp hit the metal with a pop that rang out every few seconds. It took a few minutes, but then Joy got the hang of it. Joy created a beat, hitting the ink pad, placing the paper accurately and moving the press so the design became defined. Then she would reload the stamp with ink as she moved the postcard to the finished pile. The process took about five seconds.

Every five or six stamps Joy sighed heavily before recommitting to stamping a few more postcards. This was all helping an artist friend. This design, abstract as it was, was hanging in a museum. The friend was paying Joy 10 cents for every stamp she completed so she could make about a dollar a minute if she stayed focused. This was a small satisfaction. Still, Joy lost herself in the process.

Joy stared at a postcard for a long moment trying to see what was so great about this design. Sure, the ink seemed to move in curves off the page, but Joy knew she could have created the same thing. However, her friend was the artist, and Joy was the friend who had to stamp the postcards so that they looked more authentic. If only they didn’t keep running out of postcards. Most people weren’t mailing these things—they were framing them.

Joy, the stamp girl, she thought between beats of the rhythm of stamping. When did she get to be Joy the poet?

Of course, no one saw her poetry. When she managed the courage to send her poetry somewhere it never amounted to anything. She didn’t dare show her friends who were just as creative and driven as this artist. Her words never flowed off the pages in curvy lines—they just sat there mocking her.

Joy had one other friend trying to be a poet. Every Tuesday they met at a coffee shop and talked about how neither one was a poet. They never showed each other any work. If they talked about actual poetry pieces at all, it was just to mock the fame of some other poet.

Joy despised any praise she saw for contemporary poets. In her mind, these poets did nothing but use short sentences with big words. It was all art without substance, created by accident.  She recently read a line of poetry she really liked, but when she looked up the author, he admitted that he put no intention in his poetry—he sat around and wrote things down quickly in an elevated state under the influence and when he woke up the next morning, he had a poem. Art without intention, in Joy’s mind, was child’s play.


The postcard in front of her bled together with Joy’s suddenly furious action. The ink streaking like blood and pooling on the page. She thought she could almost make out a jester’s face mocking her.

She got an idea and suddenly took her next postcard and began to write furiously.

The Jester’s smile mapped out from years of critique.

She liked it. This was going to leave a mark on the world—a stamp where she would lay claim on the culture. People would stand up at poetry readings in 200 years and begin:

The Jester’s smile mapped out from years of critique.

She knew it was the kind of line that they would debate on CNN with a breaking news banner. Joy had cracked the cultural code with this line. Fame and riches would come, and it took her only a few seconds.

She stared at the line for a few moments. Her smile slipped. She readied her ink on the stamp and pressed hard over her lines of poetry, it disappeared with only a couple letters peeking out.

Joy sighed. It was Tuesday. She had a question.

When do I become a poet?