Poetry and shovels

Sometimes when you come to write, you get poetry: lyrical, profound, gutsy, whimsical, full-throttle, evocative.

And sometimes you get shovels: it’s a shovel. It digs stuff.

Some people think of themselves as poets, so they throw out everything which isn’t poetry.

Some people think of themselves as workers, so they throw out everything which isn’t usefully shovel-like.

Some people want to keep both.

I have some questions.

1. The poet and the worker are easy, branding-wise. How does the shovels-and-poetry person brand themselves?

2. Does the shovels-and-poetry person suffer for that lack of simplicity? Or does the prolificness outweigh any potential downsides?

3. Is it wise for the poet to throw away the mundane?

4. Is it wise for the worker to throw away the numinous?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

13 thoughts on “Poetry and shovels

  1. Hm. I find myself wanting to be both yet not quite able to reconcile how, exactly. Useful stuff wrapped in pretty words? Can poetical ideas be practical as well? I realize I’ve just answered questions with questions. Not particularly helpful…

  2. I’m definitely a poets + shovels writer, and I know it’s because that’s what’s true in my life. Life is lyrical beauty and hard fucking work; I write both because it’s in me, around me, through me, just like it is in others. I try to make my poetry useful and my shovels beautiful, but they don’t always mix. I decided this go-round that I wouldn’t worry too much about whether or not I need to write one or the other; I’m going to write both because it’s all true, all useful, and all beautiful in its own way. To separate the poetry from a shovel or the usefulness from art makes them less; I want more.

    (This useful bit of poetry brought to you by the letter P and the number 2. Also, by Not Enough Coffee Man!)

  3. I’ve never thought of my work in this way before, but Catherine, as usual you have nailed it. I love both poetry and shovels. Like Ellie, I try to make both, well, both. But I wonder sometimes if living and writing this way doesn’t throw off some of the readers/buyers who find me. Not that I think there’s anything I can do about it. Until I left my former life to find a new one as an artist and art gallery owner in a very small town in one of Canada’s most beautiful regions, I was an artist and a librarian. For decades. There’s poetry and shovels for you – art whose purpose is beauty and support both, and a supportive place to put the beauty so anyone(!) can find it – and then intuitively interpret the lost ramblings of everyone(!) who can’t find it anyway. So I think this is probably me. And I have no idea how to brand it. If someone does, they should send carrier pigeons. Soon!

    Poetry and shovels: I think it may be an idea-line to peg a life to.

  4. I’ve never thought of my work in this way before, but Catherine, as
    usual you have nailed it. I love both poetry and shovels. Like Ellie, I
    try to make both, well, both. But I wonder sometimes if living and
    writing this way doesn’t throw off some of the readers/buyers who find
    me. Not that I think there’s anything I can do about it. Until I left my
    former life to find a new one as an artist and art gallery owner in a
    very small town in one of Canada’s most beautiful regions, I was an
    artist and a librarian. For decades. There’s poetry and shovels for you –
    art whose purpose is beauty and support both, and a supportive place to
    put the beauty so anyone(!) can find it – and then intuitively
    interpret the lost ramblings of everyone(!) who can’t find it anyway. So
    I think this is probably me. And I have no idea how to brand it. If
    someone does, they should send carrier pigeons. Soon!

    Poetry and shovels: I think it may be an idea-line to peg a life to.

  5. I am mostly shovels with a bit of “poetry” that shows up now and then. My thought for those of you who are a bigger mix, if you want to sell something, you need to be able to identify an audience/buyer/reader. If you can find enough people who like the mix, you can sell to them. If not, if you can find people who like each part, then you can create something to sell that way. It is trickier though and you would have to find a way to separate unrelated items in your marketing, web presence etc. That is true even if you are shovels and frying pans as those don’t go together terribly well either, but there is a definite audience for both.

  6. It’s not a comprehensive reply yet, but when I read #1, I saw a guy in a hardhat and high-vis vest resting his hand on the handle of a shovel, complete with Jimmy Barnes backing track: “Oh, whoa-oh, whoa, he’s a workin’ class MAN…”

  7. 1. The poet and the worker are easy, branding-wise. How does the shovels-and-poetry person brand themselves?

    – Hmm…I’m a bit of both, and for me the poetry-and-shovels is the modality but not the message itself. It can live within another brand that stands for X. It’s just a way of communicating whatever the promise or message is.

    2. Does the shovels-and-poetry person suffer for that lack of simplicity? Or does the prolificness outweigh any potential downsides?

    – Good question. I have to be careful not to be too opaque, scattered or aloof. I’m trying to overcome that by being increasingly open and allowing myself to be vulnerable when called for.

    3. Is it wise for the poet to throw away the mundane?

    – Not necessarily. I think some of the best poets talk about the mundane. Lyrical poetry about everyday minutiae can be pretty cool.

    4. Is it wise for the worker to throw away the numinous?

    – Jeez Catherine, I had to look that word up. Nice word! Numinous, numinous, numinous. OK, I’ve remembered it now. Erm, sometimes the worker digging and being all worker-like can bring about a lyrical, transcendent quality without really trying. Something zen-like and quite graceful. When that happens, it rocks. When a worker is trying too hard to ‘be numinous’ then it can fall flat, esp if it’s out of character.

    1. “the poetry-and-shovels is the modality but not the message itself.” I LOVE this distinction! I think that describes me quite well. Sometimes I talk matter-of-fact, sometimes in metaphor, but the topics remain the same.

      I also definitely agree in regards to the grace of the shovel. Don’t force it to be beautiful, but don’t force it NOT to be, either.

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