Monday, May 25, 2009

Poetry Exercise of Yester Year

While looking for something completely different, I stumbled across the remnants of my writing from Behrend. I had an incredible creative writing professor, George Looney (he always joked that letters were very important... he was just one letter away from being George Clooney) whom I attribute to making me the writer craftsman I am today.

He trained us in style by having us imitate the style and structure of many different poets - since the substance of the thing can't really be taught - and it showed me I could work within any style as long as I simply broke it down into component parts, and that I had much more range than I had been using.

He introduced me to Mark Doty (both figuratively and literally, when the poet came to do a reading at the college) whose haunting, tragic loss of his lover to AIDS colors his observations on daily life with a unique passion and hopefullness. One of the poems I found last night was written after Doty's "Turtle, Swan" - still my favorite of his to this day.

This is my copy-cat poem:


Since our town was a country
vista, rambling with farmland, the hih school,
of squat rick and crumbling mortar, sat
in the midst of a field beside a
cow pond where strays came to drink.
On the bank of the pond, once,

I found a new born kitten,
(not a shy, gray thing, but a blonde
sprightly warmth of energy like
the xanthous burst of a star)
purring to greet me, us - you were there.
I took him home with me, to care for him and love him; but then

he was too independent, and he ran away.
Later that same month, we walked
through the shade of the woods that lie
dividing your parents' farm from mine
where limbs rise forming veins,
and found an oak tree standing over the others

in the grove like a single raised hand in a quiet crowd.
Its leaves waved, the trunk barreling down
to the welcoming delicate give of the topsoil.
You and I wanted to carve our initials into the heavy depth
of the trunk. You took out your dad's knife,

though it was dull and I had to use a rock to sharpen it - you
took the switchblade, the grandchild of the swords
used by gladiators to hack
and hew their enemies in
hate, and used it to expresss our love. You slowly

drug the blade through the dark bark,
revealing the pale heartwood underneath
and engraved A, G,
giving us a sort of - I thought -
permenance. splinters fell on your hand. We left
the oak in the copse that day, confident that

a piece of ourselves would now live
together eternally. Last summer,
alone in the woods, I found our tree
shattered to the quick. I thought perhaps that I had
turned myself around within the trees,
mistaken the oak... although my g

was still clinging singly to the
splintered trunk. A flash of lightning had reduced
the oak to kindling and firewood,
expendable. I cried to see so
transformed what had been giant and invincible,
standing like a bare-headed god,

laughing among the bowing throng
of palm-bearing worshipers, hearing Hallelujahs
ringing from the hills and the plains.
In an amusement park in the
city, we stood in line for the Super
Jet. You took my hand endearingly and

told me you needed some space;
you didn't mean the upcoming ride.
I sat in the Jet, you screaming
beside me, and all I could think of was
when we'd read Walden in high school, someone told
me that, at one point, Thoreau

had wanted to, oddly,
burn down the entire forest
by the lake into smoldering ashes.
When the ride slid into a stop
I followed you off - I knew that I
would never again follow you anywhere

and I developed tunnel vision, seeing you
with all the space you needed. I forget how
the remainder of the day went by for me.
I don't know why the kitten ran away. My mom
gives me self-help books with passages
underlined in bright blue ink,

describing all my problems, and promising me
fulfillment if only I will do this, that.
I don't know why the cat ran away;
I don't know why the oak, stronger than
others was split asunder. I don't know why
people and things are always changing,

are never constant, will never ever
stay. I only know that I sitll love you - you with your supple fur of blonde hair that tickled my nose all of those nights, your muscular trunk, arms the strong and sinuous roots which grounded me - I still love you though you're gone.

Now, I didn't share that to demonstrate my talent (I think it's pretty hackneyed and often melodramatic) but to share my wonder at how Looney was able to draw me out as a writer. This poem has all of the subjects that tend to obsess me: old brick buildings, cats, trees, relationships, forces beyond my control, forces of nature, unrequited love, Matt (that italicized bit is totally how I felt about him back when I thought we'd never be together), family, mysticism, literature and interacting with nature. When I read it last night I was amazed how much of myself was in this fiction I'd created for a class project. My ex-professor Looney just keeps on proving to me that he really knows his stuff. I count myself as infinitely blessed to have studied under him.

Related posts:
Why I Blog
Everything I Need to Know about Public Speaking I Learned from William Shatner
Good Book, Bad Book (Review)

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