To Be the Poet

Maxine Hong Kingston
Published in 2002
by Harvard University Press

Written in the intimate style of a personal journal, this short volume from the collection of William E. Massey, Sr., Lectures in American Studies at Harvard University captures Maxine Hong Kingston’s journey from celebrated memoirist and novelist to poet. “I have almost finished my longbook,” she writes. “Let my life as Poet begin. I want the life of the Poet. I have labored for over twelve years, one thousand pages of prose. Now, I want the easiness of poetry. The brevity of the poem.” Kingston reflects on the lives of her late parents, her travels to the U.K. and Hawaii, daily events, and advice from her contemporaries such as Clayton Eshelman, Tess Gallagher, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder while exploring the struggle of embarking on something new with her attempts to write verse. “The Poet truly lives the happening moment, and gives the very bodily feeling of it to whosoever would read. To put myself into the state of poetry, I need to learn the habit of living constantly within the present moment,” writes Kingston. To Be the Poet not only offers a glimpse into the mind of a great American thinker but an exploration of a writer moving into the world of poetry.