Thursday, September 14, 2006


I wanted to be Sylvia Plath, until I realized it meant I would have to die young and by my own hand. I wanted to be Virginia Woolf, until I realized it meant I would battle a lifelong depression and walk into a river with my pockets lined with stones. I wanted to be Jane Austen until I realized she had never known love in her lifetime. I wanted to be Alice Walker until I read her essay, "One child of one's own: a meaningful digression within the work(s)" when pregnant with my second baby and I realized my fear of what Walker so eloquently articulated, "With one (child) you can move...with more than one you're a sitting duck." I wanted to be prodigious, creative, and spill words across countless pages. Some desires I have let go, others I still cling to. Today, I think I would respond to the gnawing question "who do you want to be" with the only answer I can think of: myself...flaws, gifts, baggage, and all.

The genius poet, John Engman, considered the subject of self and identity in a number of his visceral poems. The tragedy of his short life highlights his uncanny self-awareness. In 1996, he died of a brain aneurysm, just as his career was truly on its ascent. Temporary Help is a deep book of poetic brilliance....from it a sampling of the poem, "Work"--where Engman's words shared a snippet of who he may have wanted to be.

from "Work"

I wanted to be a rain salesman,
because rain makes the flowers grow...
but I am paid to work
my fingers up and down the keys, an almost sexy rhythm...
I wanted to be a rain salesman, but that's a memory
I keep returning to my childhood for minor repairs:
the green sky cracking, then rain, and after,
those flowers growing faster than I can name them,
those flowers that fix me and make me stare.

I wanted to be a rain salesman,
carrying my satchel full of rain from door to door,
selling thunder, selling the way air feels after a downpour,
but there were no openings in the rain department,
and so they left me dying behind this desk-adding bleeps,
subtracting clunks-and I would give a bowl of wild blossoms,
some rain, and two shakes of my fist at the sky
to be living...

--John Engman--

Who do you want to be today?


Blogger Jen Rouse said...

I had never read this. It is beautiful.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Kamsin said...

I really like this poem. Thanks for sharing it.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Alexandra S said...

I think I want to be me as fully as I can be, someone who doesn't back out of the goals and commitments I set for myself. This was a wonderful, thought provoking post. We all want to be someone else sometimes, often without a clue what its really like to be themselves.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Oh WOW. that poem is marvelous. I've never heard of him, so thank you. I also enjoyed your thoughts on who you once wanted to be. I also used to think a lot about who I wanted to be, trying to model myself on tragic artists -- but now I just want to be me, too, and that works out great, because there's no effort involved! And when you can just be you, you can spend all your time living and creating art, and cooking dinner and being alive -- instead of pondering who to be and how to be.

12:49 PM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

i have never read this before
and i
loved it...
what visuals...

1:02 PM  
Blogger jillypoet said...

What a great idea, a rain salesman. So clever. Thans for sharing. I've never read this poet. I too, wanted to be Plath and Woolf and Sexton, but I am afraid of fire (no sticking head in oven) and I love to swim (no drowning for me). So I write. Just keep on writing!

1:39 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Thanks for introducing me to Engman's work. . . . someone totally new to me, and obviously someone worth knowing.


3:35 PM  
Blogger melba said...

You mentioned my of my favorite poets too.
and today I only want to be myself too, but I would like to be my best self more of the time...

3:46 PM  
Blogger Verity said...

A wonderful post, brilliantly written. And a fantastic poem shared. Thanks for introducing me to Engman, I'd never heard of him.

4:26 PM  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

I followed the link back to John Engman's poems, and have to thank you for this poem and the wealth of other poems there. Wonderful. There was another Rain poem that just stopped me in my tracks. Great stuff!

5:09 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

an inspiring post, love.. i want to be Lily, working on her novel, happy in herself and her work, content, maybe loved, but most of all the fullest expression of who she really is :-) x

7:33 PM  
Blogger Madeleine said...

i think being honest i wasted many years wanting to be someone else. it took me sometime to love being me. and i do. yes i want change and to evolve and perhaps i have just come to accept that i will never be truly satisfied, always wanting a little more that life can offer. but i want those things in my shoes now, not anyone else's and that is the big significance for me.
as you said, all the people i wanted to be turned out to not be all i thought they were cracked up to be!
lovely poem, really fantastic. i'm going to go and re-read it now.

8:05 PM  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

i've never heard of john engman. thanks for introducing me to someone new. and at some time or another i've wanted to be all 3 of the women you mentioned. maybe what i really wanted was to write like them.

10:56 PM  
Blogger lisrobbe said...

I also had never heard of this poet, but I loved it. Also loved your intro. Thanks for indroduing us to John Engman

11:35 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

Another wonderful poem, I find here. Thanks.

This is a good thought for me today. Actually, one I have been thinking about, too...


12:17 PM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Absolutely gorgeous poem - and post. As for wanting to be like someone else, I think that's normal when one's growing up, trying on identities for size. But then we discard that false clothing as we discover it's really best just being one's self, with unique joys, thoughts and talents.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

I lkoved this. Thank you

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just thank you...I need to read more of his work. And thank you for articulating that desire so well...the desire to be one of those tragic geniuses...but without the tragic part! I think you are well on your way.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Shari said...

There are few poets that I enjoy. It's a hard work for me to get into. It doesn't speak to me like it does with others.

But this Engman that you left was one of my all time favorites. It was one that spoke to me when the others wouldn't.

I did the same thing with musicians when I was a child. I wanted to be Nick Drake until I realized I'd have to commit suicide. I thought I'd be Mark Everett until I realized I wouldn't be able to handle severe depression. I wanted to be Billie Holiday until it meant I'd have to be on the heroin.

It's hard to be who we are and not just embody the artists that we so deeply enjoy.

This was a great post.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

I'm glad I got the chance to share someone less-known, but no less genius...I love Engman's brilliant writing.

1:31 PM  
Blogger BZ said...

Another great post.

2:04 AM  
Blogger abhay k said...

hey, what a deeply thoughtful post...makes us all think who we really want to be...I loved the poem..i wanted to be a rain salesman..its so good!
best wishes!

3:19 AM  

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