I began writing poetry when I was in third grade. I had watched figure skating on television and was stunned by the beauty and grace of the skaters. That coincided with a school assignment to write a poem. I wrote the worst poem of my entire life - two horrific rhyming verses about "beautiful shimmering crystal ice". Yes, it was embarrassingly awful but I was only seven and it was my first poem. I remember only the first verse now. However, I will never forget that Mrs. Deere wrote in big, red, cursive letters across my paper: "You surely had help writing the assignment". I had not heard the word "fuck" yet - or if I had, I did not know how to use it appropriately to express myself. I can assure you that my feelings toward Mrs. Deere and her red ink pen at that moment could have been succinctly expressed thusly: "Fuck you Mrs. Deere. Fuck you very much."
Mrs. Deere's lack of faith did not deter me. I continued to write terrible poetry. By the time I was in senior English class, I wrote a poem that earned an A+. I have forgotten the teacher's name, though I remember her face and quite a lot of what she taught us. An A+ was quite an achievement in my long suffering, boring, dismal academic career. My parents heard the same thing every year: "Does not work to potential." I wish for their sake, and mine, that we later discovered that I was a goddamned American genius but that never happened. Perhaps the closest I have ever came to some sort of intellectual vindication was a comment made by my PhD - graduate class professor - brain scientist - neighbor. She often encouraged me to go back to school, in my late 50's! I said it would be a waste of everyones time as I am sure I would earn the same depressing grades I always earned. She said, "You would be a shining star." I know I should not be bragging but I believe that may have been the deepest compliment I have ever received in my entire life.
When I was a young woman, I shared my poetry with a boyfriend here and there, but only one was ever even slightly impressed. I have a very fundamental understanding of quantum physics, which showed up in my poetry for awhile. The one minimally impressed guy did not appreciate the poetry but was instead "amazed" that I understood physics. It was a very backhanded compliment. So, no, I never went out with him again.
I discovered the one and only fan of my poetry when I wrote a poem specifically to honor my good friend who once ran a sweat lodge on his property. He is a Vietnam veteran. I was always profoundly struck that he survived the horrific combat of the Vietnam war to later become a fierce and powerful healer. All the men of my generation were affected by that war, one way or another. They were either drafted or enlisted. The alternatives were mostly dishonorable. It was a very difficult time in our country. I came to have a tremendous compassion for those men, my generational brothers, caught in those awful times, facing those unhappy decisions. Every choice a young man could make had serious consequences. My poem must have struck a nerve with my friend. He was so enthusiastic that I became unafraid to share more of my work with him. He told me once, "I get it! I am right there with you!" No author could ever expect a better compliment.
High on his appreciation, I began to take my own work far more seriously. This occurred at a time when civilization had finally made its slow, meandering way to poor, conservative, backwater Topeka, Kansas in the form of an actual coffee house. They had open mic nights - poetry slams decided by immediate round of applause whether a poet made it to the next round. With my children in the audience, I stood in front of a packed house and read a poem - out loud - through a microphone - in front of strangers. I was quaking with nervous energy.
Amazingly, it was well received and I qualified for another round. It came down to middle-aged me and an incredibly handsome, stream of consciousness young guy who blew everyone away with his unrehearsed wit and imagery and strange cadences. I came in second behind him but he absolutely deserved first place. I was just impressed with the applause and the enthusiasm for my poetry from that predominately young crowd. An older woman whose poetry did not get more than polite applause had already left as if she was angry. I was certain I was going to be humiliated in a similar fashion. I would not be angry but I would be very embarrassed. When I got up there, I was looking out into a sea of faces, knowing I was about to publicly humiliate myself and my children. I will always cherish the memory of seeing my children's beaming faces, their smiles from ear to ear, encouraging me to go for it. So I went for it - and came in unofficially second and that was damn well good enough.
So... after a quarter of a century, I am going to subject myself to another round of horrible self-doubt and public humiliation this weekend, reading a poem or two during an open mic session - unless after I hear other's work I decide to just stay in my seat.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
|First Snowfall of 2018|
For beings that live such brief physical lives we adapt remarkably easily. Complacency lulls us to carelessly take our lives for granted in the most unfortunate, unconscious manner.
Luckily I live in a moment of the planet's lifespan when my particular little corner of Kansas is not beneath a shallow warm sea, when the evolving climate produces four seasons.
I may arrive home to see my ordinary home graced with an extraordinary blue glow in the waning light of a snowy winter day - perhaps the only time it will ever appear exactly like this - and I consider that my quiet little life is, upon reflection, quite remarkable.