Good evening. It’s an interesting day for me to be making new acquaintances. I’ve spent the afternoon bar-tending for the memorial of an old friend. Cycle-of-life and all that, I guess. As they leave, so do they enter.
The e-mail regarding this endeavor encouraged me to make an introductory post to familiarize myself with the system. My own blog is on Blogger so there’s certainly a learning curve but it seems pretty intuitive, so far.
The aforementioned epistle also encouraged me to let you know a little about myself. To quote Doctor Evil, “Very well. Where do I begin?”
Part of me wants to answer jokingly with something clever but I’ve been trying to crawl out of my introvert’s shell recently and I believe I’ll try being honest. Honesty is good, yes?
I’m a native of Minden, Nebraska and I’ve Iived in several places in the wonderful state. I have a fondness for ranch country and one of my passions is the Nebraska Sandhills. I never tire of them. If I feel the need to reconnect with who I am or to slough off something unfortunate that has been thrust upon my psyche, a trip to the Sandhills and I’m fine. The only place in the world that I feel as passionate about is Rio Arriba Couny, New Mexico. Must be a desert thing.
I’ve also lived as a homeless vagabond in Paris and Heidelberg, so my life hasn’t been all tumbleweeds and branding irons. I’m a former auto mechanic. I’ve run kitchens and fed hundreds at a time. I ran a kitchen for the Salvation Army and fed their summer camps and day camps. Through them, I taught children to cook. I lived on-site and worked in a kitchen in an assisted living facility for the mentally ill. Although not a resident, I sometimes didn’t leave for weeks at a time. My companions being, for the most part, schizophrenic or paranoid or bi-polar. Once upon a time I found myself bagging groceries for tips. No wages. Just tips. I’ve been a Benedictine monk hopeful. I never made the vows but I’ve lived in two monasteries and spent time attending Mass in two more. I still go on retreat to one of my former homes. It’s been a wild life and I’m happy to have gotten this far, still vertical and breathing.
With the exception of a span of just over three years, between 2009 and 2012, and parts of 2007, 2008, and 2009, when I was living either in those monasteries or Maryland, I’ve been at home on Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s a fascinating town that may have finally grown too big and pushy for this old farm kid. Or maybe I’ve just grown too old for such a young and vibrant place. My 52nd birthday was yesterday, so that may be the case. I’m told you’re only as young as you feel and it doesn’t seem that ‘old’ has reached all of my bones yet. Perhaps it’s because I work with a crowd of youngsters who never let me slow down long enough to feel my age. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that I’ve just gotten to be twice as old as my father the last age my father attained in life. Either way, I’m still usually found in sandals and hoodies and short pants, even in three feet of snow. I’m a kid at heart, complete with cool bicycles and toy ray guns.
I’m a poet because I love to be. I wrote as a young man but in the late 1980s I gathered everything together and slowly fed it to a smoldering barbecue grate. I started writing again when I was wandering around Europe in the early 1990s. Little scraps of writing happened periodically until about 2007, when I realized that I wasn’t writing honestly. Certain that I couldn’t and never would, I wrapped everything: bar napkins and coasters; scraps of brown grocery bags; the backs of receipts, etc.; in Hefty bags and duct tape, including my European notebooks, took the bundle to the landfill, tossed it in front of the dozer, and watched it go under the blade. That pile of scribbles won’t be seen again until Judgment Day. Not even then, if I can help it.
I swore that I would never write again. Not being ‘good enough’ was too much of a disappointment.
In 2011, a friend who knew I enjoyed poetry and had tried my hand at it ‘once-upon-a-time’ asked if I could help him write a love poem for his girlfriend. I gave him some pointers, which included advising him of the use of random sentences, my own example being, “With the egg money, I bought a kite.” He asked if I could write that poem and I said that I thought I could. When I came back to him the next day, he had decided that poetry was ‘too hard’ and he was going to try something else to impress his girl. I, on the other hand, had this:
“THE OTHER EGGS”
With the egg money I bought a kite,
strong and flat,
that would stand on its tail and
With gut twine and hope I flew it at night;
and the strength of its heart poked holes in the
white-soft pupil of the blind lunar eye.
With a thrill and a cry, I felt its tug,
I knew not where,
and it danced out of sight and let me believe
that it was high in the wind and beyond;
that it was the jewel of my wandering dreams
cast up from the far volcano of sleep.
We were awake in the night, my kite and I.
With a broad knife and bold I severed the twine
that spread between the moon and my sighs.
As a bark high and wide my kite leapt
and it flew away on the tide of the wind;
swinging not on gut twine but on a rope of random stars.
And soft down we fell in the dark,
my kite and me.
With the dawn came the cock and the crow
and the hen and the egg and the clutch
and I stole the hen’s new eggs . . .
And with the other egg money . . .
After composing it, I sat down with a pen and paper every day, for the rest of the summer, and for over seventy days, I was able to scribble at least one poem a day. Not all of them were anything readable, but I was enjoying their composition. For the six years since then, the poetic well has sustained me. Sometimes to a greater degree, and sometimes to a lesser, but poetry is increasingly a real source of sustenance. Food for the soul.
– One side note – I recently entered ‘The Other Eggs’ in a bards battle and it placed in the top ten, out of over a hundred pieces submitted. I’ve entered the same contest four times in five years, eight poems total, and placed six of them in the top ten. I’ve never won but twice I’ve had both of my entries judged as Top Ten Finalists. To my way of thinking two in the ten is better than one at the top. –
I discovered that the poetry that had disappointed me earlier in my life, the poetry I had destroyed, had done so because it was based in the anger and disappointment in my life. It was very ’emo’, as the cool kids say, but I’m not ’emo’ myself. I’m a vagabond and a happy-go-lucky wanderer. I’m a painter with bright colors. When I make love, it’s with great joy and reckless abandon. Or was. That’s something I gave up in order to be a monk and when that dream was set aside, I never took it back up again. I’m sure you know what I mean. It’ll come back around one of these days, almost certainly. I love to laugh and scratch in the dirt with sticks like a child. I play with toy trains in the middle of the night, just to watch the lights race around my house. I build model airplanes. I play video games. I do things that bring me joy and I love to share joy. My ‘now poetry’ is romance and joy and happiness, for the most part. Back then, it wasn’t. It was me recording misery and then using the words to inflict it back on myself. Some people can write misery very well and in a way that doesn’t seem maudlin. I can’t. Or not often enough to make it a forte. I simply thought I could. And should. Hence the disappointment. It was feeding misery and it was starving me.Since the writing of ‘The Other Eggs’, though, poetry can fill me with an exultation that I don’t get from so many other things. I also write love letters for the same reason. Sometimes I write them anonymously and leave them in little nooks and crannies downtown, for strangers to find. I get the same thrill from that as I do when I write a sonnet for Louise Brooks or Queen Victoria or Anais Nin, just a few of the goddesses of my idolatry. Sometimes I write them for Dulcinea, my own ideal, not unlike she of the love of Don Quixote. Those I share on my blog for my friends. I will still occasionally compose something not especially happy, something ‘dark’ such as
“One Day in the Clover”
five by five abreast,
with little steps.
All of those who will
be the same,
And the artists will stand
with the poets
and the prophets
and not for the mob.
To the dim
behind the paint sheds.
I wonder how
on the wind that day.
I wonder if
the wind will be sweet
. . .
sweet like clover jam.
I hope so because
I’ll be among them.
I am not the mob,
nor of it.
Perhaps I was
but at the calling
and the rolling
I stepped back
and I looked forward
. . .
to the paint sheds
. . .
and I chose
on the wind,
The wind I cannot change.
Not the paint,
that will blaze
and smoke in cylinders,
flash-burn like life
in true hearts.
It will burn,
beside the roads that day.
And I won’t smell the cordite
that will drift calmly,
after the fact,
behind the paint sheds.
I’ll lie down beneath it,
and the clover,
who made a choice
rather than to yield to
I hope that they notice that the clover
is sweet . . .
and soft . . .
and what it cost them.
For me, it was free.
I can do dark. I just don’t like to. Those poems are notable in my catalog also because they’re free form. I prefer sonnets and sestinas. I love to try to find the door that opens inward into a closed form, to push on it, and to see the wide world that’s in there. I’m more confined by free form than I am by sonnets. Strange, I know.
That poem, by the way, was a response to a particularly galling day among the savages, watching what modern media does with words and with feeling. I’m still not convinced that that won’t happen, by the way. That we won’t all be taken out and shot one day for thinking outside of an unfortunate norm. For meaning what we say and saying that which isn’t ‘beneficial’, whatever that may mean. By and large though, joy is what I do.
And that’s an introduction to me as a poet and as a person. One poem on a hot June day has turned into 200+ sonnets, several odes, numerous rhythmic rhyming pieces and about an acre-and-a-half of free form. I couldn’t stop now if I tried. And I’ve tried.
It should be worth mentioning that I idolize Elizabeth Barrett Browning and ‘The Sonnets from the Portuguese’.
Emily Dickinson, I would give almost anything to spend a morning baking coconut cake in that Amherst kitchen then devouring the entire thing with her over a pot of tea. I have the recipe for that cake and someday I’ll bake it with someone whose writing I admire. Maybe just someone whose poetry I want to sit and listen to all day long.
One of the prizes of my poetry collection is a good condition first edition of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Wine From These Grapes’, still with the dust jacket and rice paper insert. I found it sitting on top of a stack of bad, paperback science fiction, next to a dumpster, when the college kids moved out. What sort of savage throws something like that away?
Rabindranath Tagore. What a joy to read his ‘Gardener’.
Billy Collins, especially ‘Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes’. I frequently have to explain that one.
‘The Song of Solomon’ from the Old Testament is such beautiful love poetry.
I adore Maggie Estep’s ‘Scab Maids on Speed’.
I am crushed to the depths of my soul by Wilfred Owen, especially ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. Just because I don’t willing ‘do’ dark, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy and admire it.
Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Soldier an’ Sailor Too’ is why, although I have MacMillans and Bealls, Calders, Taylors, and Edmonstones in my background, I wear a Black Watch kilt. ‘But to stand and be still to the Birken ‘ead drill. Is a damn tough bullet to chew.” The Birkenhead Drill. Such nobility and sacrifice.
The list goes on and on.
Will I ever write anything that deserves to be on the list with those poets and their works? I hope to. If I have an ambition, that would be it. I’m not there yet, that’s for certain. But I have hope. I have joy. Although I may be disappointed in the end, I believe I will always have a love of poetry to keep me trying.
That’s why I’ve joined this marathon, or rather ‘half-marathon’ in my case. I work on Sunday morning so, logistically, I wouldn’t have the time to finish a 24 piece marathon and still get enough sleep to see me through work. I’ve joined the marathon because it’s another challenge, something less competitive and therefore more enriching than a bard’s battle.. We don’t improve by being complacent and we can’t best a challenge if we don’t face it. I’m looking forward to facing this one with all of you. Best of luck finishing. I look forward to reading, and hearing, what you all have to say. I’m grateful that you’ll let me listen.