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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