Cover image for To be the poet
To be the poet
Kingston, Maxine Hong.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
111 pages ; 19 cm.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3561.I52 Z48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3561.I52 Z48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 60 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.

Author Notes

Born in California to immigrant Chinese parents, Kingston was educated at the University of California at Berkeley. Kingston soared to literary celebrity upon the publication of her autobiographica The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (1976). The Woman Warrior is dominated by Kingston's mother; her next work, China Men (1980), although not autobiographical in the manner of her previous book, is focused on her father and on the other men in her family, giving fictionalized, poetic versions of their histories. The combination of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and myth in both books create a form of balanced opposites that one critic has likened to yin and yang. Her first novel, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, was published in 1989.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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