If You’re Trying To Be Cool, You’re Not

Robert Frost: “Cool” Poet by Any Other Name

In yesterday’s post, I wondered aloud about poets seeking publicity in a kinder, gentler way. In today’s, I muse over just how cool it would be to have an understanding of those ways and not share them.

Not share them? Right. Because feeling no need to share would be cool. Fact is, cool poets make like Nike and just do it. For further proof, you need only peruse all the news that’s fit to print (read: today’s New York Times).

After reading The Origins of Cool in Postwar America by Joel Dinerstein, New York Times columnist David Brooks concluded that being “cool” and famous at the same time is a dying, if not dead, art. Read this excerpt from Brooks’ column, if you will, and replace “the cool person” with “the poet”:

The cool person is stoical, emotionally controlled, never eager or needy, but instead mysterious, detached and self-possessed. The cool person is gracefully competent at something, but doesn’t need the world’s applause to know his worth. That’s because the cool person has found his or her own unique and authentic way of living with nonchalant intensity.

Got it? Of course you do. In olden times, when such things were necessary, the Yellow Pages of the telephone book had a motto: “Let your fingers do the walking.” For the cool poet, it would be “Let their eyes do the reading.” And if they (the readers’) do not? All the same to the cool poet. He just keeps writing in his nonchalantly intense way.

More parallels? Interviewed by Brooks, Dinerstein traces roots of “cool” to the cultural experience of blacks:

It emerged specifically within African-American culture, among people who had to withstand the humiliations of racism without losing their temper, and who didn’t see any way to change their political situation.

Is it a leap to point out that cool poets withstand the much-lesser humiliation of being last of the genres read by the literate public–certainly in America–and the first to accept it with a shrug because it ain’t gonna change soon? More on the definition from Brooks:

Cool had other social meanings. It was a way of showing you weren’t playing the whole Horatio Alger game; you weren’t a smarmy career climber. It was a way to assert the value of the individual in response to failed collectivisms — to communism and fascism, to organized religion. The cool person is guided by his or her own autonomous values, often on the outskirts of society.

Although Brooks and Dinerstein do it for us, I’m sure all of you, upon reading the above, saw “failed collectivisms” and modernized it by thinking of social networking pioneered by boy-wonders-now-billionaires, the “opiate of the masses” Karl Marx would have pointed out had it existed in his heated times.

What does it all mean? The cool poet is not a publicity hound. He just writes and, unless he is not only cool but fantastically-talented, remains blissfully unknown (much to our admiration… if we knew him to blissfully admire, that is).

You can read Brooks’ column in its entirety here.





  1. I’m sure that Brooks, one of our rare intelligent conservatives, would believe cool poets, if they actually voted, would be libertarians or Aynus Rand conservatives, you know, those who hate “socialism” because it takes away the precious dignity of the poor to accept (without unseemly protests) being poor as government policies help the rich get richer.


      • Perhaps. i mean, sure i want readers, but i don’t feel any urge to do much but write the best poetry i am able to write & sure i send to journals & it’s nice to be accepted & cool when people show an interest, but for 10 years, before i got any attention no matter the volume, i wrote poetry, i didn’t show it people, if they asked i did, it wasn’t a secret, & i don’t think my doing it was to be cool it was because poetry just meant something to me. i stopped playing in bands & all that because it demanded an ego for me & i couldn’t play the part, but poetry didn’t it seemed more earnest.


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