To Be the Poet

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Overview

"I have almost finished my longbook," Maxine Hong Kingston declares. "Let my life as Poet begin...I won't be a workhorse anymore; I'll be a skylark." To Be the Poet is Kingston's manifesto, the avowal and declaration of a writer who has devoted a good part of her sixty years to writing prose, and who, over the course of this spirited and inspiring book, works out what the rest of her life will be, in poetry. Taking readers along with her, this celebrated writer gathers advice from her gifted contemporaries and from sages, critics, and writers whom she takes as ancestors. She consults her past, her conscience, her time--and puts together a volume at once irreverent and deeply serious, playful and practical, partaking of poetry throughout as it pursues the meaning, the possibility, and the power of the life of the poet.

A manual on inviting poetry, on conjuring the elusive muse, To Be the Poet is also a harvest of poems, from charms recollected out of childhood to bursts of eloquence, wonder, and waggish wit along the way to discovering what it is to be a poet.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Maxine Hong Kingston vows that her long service as a prose workhorse is over; she wants to be a poet/skylark. These essays, based on Kingston's 2000 William E. Massey Lectures at Harvard, articulate a writer's manual on inviting poetry. Melodious and supple, To Be the Poet practices what it preaches.
Santa Cruz Sentinel

A handsome, sub-sized book, To Be the Poet includes drawings by the author and journal jottings of lunches, telephone calls, trips and conversations with friends. It's fast and interesting, and useful as a blueprint on how to get a poem.
— Chris Watson

Washington Post

Maxine Hong Kingston's To Be the Poet reads like a documentary on the daily life of a writer, and it has the potential to become a classic...Her new book...is not simply about being a writer; it's also a memoir with suggestions for coping with life...A lifelong writer of prose transforming herself into a poet—becomes the central image of the book, establishing the structure for its collage of reflections and notes...She takes the reader with her as she rededicates herself to poetry...Every writer should have a copy of this book, along with more copies in storage, to pass out to friends and family who look askance at the writing life...[Kingston's] lyrical prose uses the specifics of one woman's life to make a universal statement about how writers live and work.
— A. Van Jordan

Northwest Asian Weekly

The poems themselves are not only good writing, but a kind of personal prescription for the development of wisdom. Poetry, Kingston said, has become an antidote and companion to the hard work of prose writing. I especially enjoyed how she moves from mundane tasks like selling her house to the loftiness of imagining peace in her poetry. Somehow, in the masterful hands of this writer, these disparate activities become whole. This first book of poetry by the author is also a sort of workbook of instructions for the creative, and I would highly recommend it to other writers and artists as well as those who love words.
— Ann-Marie Stillion

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Kingston has written some mighty serious books over the years, and now, at 60, she's kicking up her heels and enjoying the fun of wordsmithing. To Be the Poet is her "manifesto"...Kingston pillages her past and plunders the future, assembling a slim volume that's deeply observational and disarmingly witty.
— Burl Burlingame

Honolulu Advertiser
A suitably brief, lucid and intriguing invitation to the process of poetry, in which [Kingston] shares her own path after she "choose the poet's life"...Once again, she blazes her own trail.
Santa Cruz Sentinel - Chris Watson
A handsome, sub-sized book, To Be the Poet includes drawings by the author and journal jottings of lunches, telephone calls, trips and conversations with friends. It's fast and interesting, and useful as a blueprint on how to get a poem.
Washington Post - A. Van Jordan
Maxine Hong Kingston's To Be the Poet reads like a documentary on the daily life of a writer, and it has the potential to become a classic...Her new book...is not simply about being a writer; it's also a memoir with suggestions for coping with life...A lifelong writer of prose transforming herself into a poet--becomes the central image of the book, establishing the structure for its collage of reflections and notes...She takes the reader with her as she rededicates herself to poetry...Every writer should have a copy of this book, along with more copies in storage, to pass out to friends and family who look askance at the writing life...[Kingston's] lyrical prose uses the specifics of one woman's life to make a universal statement about how writers live and work.
Northwest Asian Weekly - Ann-Marie Stillion
The poems themselves are not only good writing, but a kind of personal prescription for the development of wisdom. Poetry, Kingston said, has become an antidote and companion to the hard work of prose writing. I especially enjoyed how she moves from mundane tasks like selling her house to the loftiness of imagining peace in her poetry. Somehow, in the masterful hands of this writer, these disparate activities become whole. This first book of poetry by the author is also a sort of workbook of instructions for the creative, and I would highly recommend it to other writers and artists as well as those who love words.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin - Burl Burlingame
Kingston has written some mighty serious books over the years, and now, at 60, she's kicking up her heels and enjoying the fun of wordsmithing. To Be the Poet is her "manifesto"...Kingston pillages her past and plunders the future, assembling a slim volume that's deeply observational and disarmingly witty.
Publishers Weekly
A collection of stories and legends, Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1976) is a collegiate fixture and a centerpiece for the Asian-American canon; her subsequent works buttressed her reputation for fiction and autobiographical prose. This short volume chronicles Kingston's attempts to adopt "the life of the Poet": "The Poet's day will be moment upon moment of gladsomeness. Poets do whatever they like." Though they were first delivered as lectures at Harvard, these three chapters in note-like prose with interpolated verse read more like short diaries. Brief meditations on Kingston's late parents; glimpses from her travels to the U.K. and Hawaii; sketches and even numerical jottings; daily events ("I'd ordered a burgundy, but got white wine") and portentous sentences on her poet acquaintances (Gary Snyder, Alice Fulton, Fred Marchant) punctuate what are mostly Kingston's notes on her attempts to write verse, and on her ideas of what verse-writing means. "Taking the day off, I was already acting like the Poet"; "Try for poetry day and night./ Try in various places"; "I actually felt diamonds of light touch me." Part three includes more of Kingston's own poetry, which is mostly unfinished (as she says) and largely unsatisfactory (as she acknowledges): "Word or picture cannot show/ the Reality of Cow." Her last and most effective poem revisits her first book it versifies the story of Mu Lan, the Woman Warrior, and Kingston's devotees will appreciate that, even as they await her return to other forms. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
On the opening page of this slim volume, Kingston (creative writing, Univ. of California, Berkeley) declares that after decades of writing acclaimed memoirs and fiction such as The Woman Warrior, China Men, and Tripmaster Monkey she has decided to devote herself to writing poetry. This work, based on her 2000 William E. Massey Lectures at Harvard, explores this new dimension of her life, mostly written in verse. Kingston relays her past, how she looks at herself, and how she works to take on the life of a poet. What results is a multilayered book that is irreverant, serious, and playful but always instructive. She gives her readers the opportunity to see an accomplished artist at work in the creative process a new one for her. This book should appeal to all who have had the urge to put pen to paper. Recommended for all libraries. Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Maxine Hong Kingston, Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the 2000 William E. Massey Lectures at Harvard, on which this book is based. For her memoirs and fiction, The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, and Hawaii One Summer, Kingston has earned numerous awards, among them the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Pen West Award for Fiction, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award, and a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the rare title of "Living Treasure of Hawai'i." In addition, The Fifth Book of Peace will be published in the Spring of 2003.
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Table of Contents

1. I Choose the Poet's Life

2. I Call on the Muses of Poetry, and Here's What I Get

3. Spring Harvest

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