Do I consider myself to be intelligent?


I don’t like the word ‘intelligence’. This word is sour. Solipsistic. It smells like grammar schools and 11+ exams. It sounds like the anti-thesis of ‘stupid’, the stuff of bullying.

People might call me intelligent because I am pursuing, always pursuing, always pursuing. Academia. Writing. Reading. I guess I look ‘intelligent’. But this sour word is so beyond what I possess or ‘am’. (I actually live in fear that I might some day think I am intelligent… what will I do with my days?) Intelligence is outside the experiences I put myself through, in order to think more thoroughly, more rigorously, in a more considered way. It is so separate from all the conversations I have with myself and others about how we should be. It is so separate from the way I laugh at myself when I cannot pull a day together, when the bits just won’t slot into place. I just want to learn not to overwhelm myself with tasks, so that I can always have space for people. Is that intelligent? The pursuit of pursuing ideas in a really human way. Is that smart?

Oftentimes I go back to something the poet Jo Shapcott said to me in 2011. She was talking about writing when she said that: every poem is the first poem. Or at least, every poem should feel like the first poem you have written. You know you are really writing when it feels like the first thing you have ever written.

(The pursuit is vertical. It is a vertical drop.)

I’ve repeated these words to myself so many times over the last few years, thinking: always write the first thing you have ever written. It means a lot to me as a statement of intent. It means a lot to me as a statement of intellectualism, as it suggests that there is something we glimpse in writing (and thought). Some day I will find the word for this thing I glimpse when I am really writing, really thinking. I already know that that word will not be ‘intelligence’.


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