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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

On Writing - Part V

On Writing

The notes for the poem are the only poem.

 – Adrienne Rich

Part V

When I was in my early twenties I read my poetry at open mic readings around town.

I have been doing that again over the last year, now that I am in my late forties.

I read at a little café in town of Twenty-nine Palms, California; when I was in the Navy.

I won a third place prize for composition and recitation.

I still have the little framed plaque, and have listed that achievement on my curriculum vitae:

Third Place, Thornton Desert Poetry Reading and Composition 1993.

I earned an A in my English 110 class at The University of St. Thomas.

The class was taught by Leslie Miller, a poet.

The class had an emphasis on the analysis of poetry and plays. It was a lot of work, and I was very proud of that grade because many of the English majors I spoke to about it were surprised that I had earned an A from Leslie Miller.

I was encouraged, and so I enrolled in a poetry writing class with the same professor.

Later, I had to withdraw from that course, taking a W because, according to Dr. Miller, whatever I was writing in her class, I was not writing poetry.

It was frustrating to hear a professor tell me that what I was writing was not poetry.

I did not understand her.

I told her that there were many thoughts in my head; ideas, arguments, anecdotes that I felt were best expressed poetically, and I asked her if this did not count as poetry.

She said it did not, because I was not working within an established medium (I was not sure how she knew this), she had us read the essay by T. S. Elliot: On Tradition and Individual Talent, and that encapsulated her view of my work.

The following is a piece I presented, and was rejected by her in class.

A Temporary Intervention in the Demise of a Drunk

His hands flail
Slowly, uncoordinated
In jagged arcs

He begs for his Lysol
Thinks it ambrosia
With a carton of cream.

Desperate for death? I ask
He chortles,
don't make me drink kerosene

Until that time I had been quite fond of writing out my random thoughts and feelings in verse, it had sustained me through my teen years and into young adulthood.

I thought of myself as a writer of poetry but not a poet. I knew that even when I was eighteen years old. My friend Josh asked me then whether I saw myself as a poet, or a philosopher. I did not hesitate to say that I was philosopher.

When I finally started college it was philosophy, and theology, and history that I studied.

In my first few years as an undergraduate I still wrote poetry on the side, but after that class with Leslie Miller I stopped writing verse altogether.

For the next fifteen years, hardly a single line escaped my pen.

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