Hiding Behind Poetry

Self-portrait with high exposure

There are days when I still can’t believe that I actually have an online presence. That I actually have the courage to publish anything.

And truthfully, without a pseudonym, there’s a good chance that I wouln’t do so. I will list a couple of reasons below:

Issue 1: When Readers Think They Know You

All too often, people are completely and utterly unable to distinguish between a writer and his/her work. I “am” not the characters I write. I may be inspired to write them based on real life events from my own life – but those characters are children of my thoughts. They are not me.

The difficulty in making this distinction is obviously non-existing in the case of a reader who has never met me. They would have no way of knowing whether and how close I am approaching reality in my texts. And technically speaking; neither do friends or family. But they think that they know. And that is the cause of potential problems.

It is one thing when someone I don’t know writes to me on the internet, telling me that they interpret one of my pieces in a certain way (that is completely different to what I was envisioning). A whole other ball game is when people I actually know become upset because they think something is aimed at them, even though it isn’t.

I have found, personally, that a pseudonym goes a long way to protect against that – because people I know will usually assume it is part of a persona, and therefore not as “real”.

Issue 2: How Brand Oneself Without Branding Oneself?

I was never the self-promoting type in the first place. I would make a hideous salesperson. And in this day and age, it seems accepted that you need to brand yourself – more like a product than a human being. I was never comfortable with that.

At least to my mind, no reader should need to know me as a person in order to read my poetry. If you can’t read a poem without knowing the poet, there’s not much value in the poem – as far as I can see.

So, yeah, hiding behind a pseudonym doesn’t – in a sense – feel right, but it is simply the more practical solution.

The whole idea of advertising my work to people gives me the creeps. I don’t want to market poetry like a product to be sold. It isn’t conceived like that, and it just doesn’t feel natural to treat it as such.

Issue 3: “So You Write Love Poems?”

I don’t know whether this is because I am a woman, or because most people don’t have much clue about poetry at all besides “roses are red…”

I just know that it always rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like devaluing something I cared deeply about, and simultaneously saying that they didn’t believe me capable of more than wallowing in sentimentality.

After many times having had to explain to people that, no, I didn’t write “love poetry”, I just wrote poetry – and no, I wasn’t a “woman writer”, I was just a writer – I ended up so fed up with the whole thing that I deleted my first name and started using initials only, since my gender apparently made my poetry irrelevant or “cute” rather than serious, to some people.

Just Read the Poetry

Yeah, readers have minds of their own, and think what they want to think. And finding that they got something entirely different out of a poem than what you yourself thought of it, can be quite enlightening and fun.

But there can be reasons why plastering one’s own name all over the poems isn’t necessarily the best idea, and I have a handful. I value my privacy, and just don’t bother with the potential drama.

I always felt that I didn’t so much hide behind the pseudonym (which grew and changed organically over time BTW), as behind the poetry. The poetry became the face I didn’t show. And in a way, that feels more right. You shouldn’t need to see my face or hear my name. You should read the poetry, and immerse yourselves in that – and get whatever comes natural to you based on your knowledge and experience out of it – without me getting in the way.

So, yeah, I hide behind the poetry – and let it speak for itself. It might as well do so, since it absolutely demanded to be written in the first place. It must mean it has something it wants to say, I guess.

Published By: K-M Skalkenæs

K-M Skalkenæs is a Danish poet, writer and pictorial artist. She both writes her own original poetry in English and Danish, and translates poetry from the Scandinavian languages and German into English.