Vol 1 Issue 20
Poet for a While
I’ve been a poet several times in my life, when I most needed to be one. Not like it’s been a profession. It’s a more urgent calling than writing fiction–like a needle to the heart instead of taking the pills. Which makes the work harder to pick up again years later when the needle has stopped delivering its dose.
When an adolescent, it was the need to be someone, anyone, it hardly mattered in the rush to grow up, and grow away from where I lived. Carolina was not my home, though I had no idea where it might be. Lewis later remarked it’s not where you live, but how, and that pissed me off because I knew he was right. Even so, in time we both left South Florida. I didn’t belong there either.
When a college student it was–what–I don’t remember except the angst–ah yes, it was a huge fear of not being good enough to survive in the world. The blog is about design and what I’ve learned about it.
In the aftermath of a failed marriage followed by a flash-of-light relationship that told me I wasn’t done with loving someone other than my sons, being with someone, I fell back into poetry again. When she said I had been great but it couldn’t last, it sent me into a tailspin that lasted a year or more and produced a first book of poetry. The closing poem, Her Leaning Chair is included here.
Dark times yet I needed to live them in a bare apartment in a seedy building overlooking I-95, my monk’s cell as I referred to it. Hadn’t written poetry in years, and I had to start over to learn it. I knew I needed to read other poets’ work, to study in order to write. These many years later I know that I still need to study.
When Ryan fell backwards from his dorm window, nothing meant more than trying to make sense of his story.
Billy Collins [i] says the subject of poetry is death. By that reading during my fifties after Ryan’s death, I became a fulltime poet. I’ve never counted all the poems and fragments I wrote in the aftermath, but the manuscripts fill boxes.
I burdened too many lyrics with sadness, yet I strove to put down the truth of who he was, this boy who listened to a private voice I was never sure to understand. As I wrote deeper into his story, I’d catch glimpses, just as I’d seen flash moments while he was alive, seeming impossible to capture his quick silvered humor.
The guilt that comes with losing a child is relentless, pitiless, like being tattooed again and again with a branding iron. I wasn’t there. No other explanation matters.
Poems start with simple sounds, sometimes stumbling into images. If not, they lie fallow on the page, inconsequential like dry leaves on the road. Are they sweet these sounds or guttural? Are the images anything close to where they strive to ascend? Meanings can spill sideways accidentally. After all, the sounds first and foremost attract or repel. Except for Instagram, I hear poetry is a dying art nobody reads. Could be, but I’ll still save my needle and wait it out.
For Collins, droll is an active verb, even his title says so. Another Reason I Don't Keep a Gun in the House You might listen to him; he’s way funnier than this newsletter.
[i] William James Collins, 2001-2003 Poet Laureate of the United States