Preface: A note on the Poetry that will be found here from time to time…
Time, so fleet of foot leaves everything behind so quickly. Moments become memories in a matter of seconds. The past, if not documented, blurs in the sheer magnitude of life’s experiences. My poetical aim has always been to craft some of these fleeting moments into monuments, sculpting with words images to withstand the erosion of memory, working with sound and imagery to create a solid something from the intangible passage of consciousness through time. These works are intended to be read aloud thus emphasising the emotion and the metaphor, utilising the fullness of tone and the depth of expression that only a voice can give. Some of them were even meant to be sung. It is my sincere hope that at least some of the works presented here will meet with your approval, dear reader…
BEGINNINGS: ALL THOSE MANY DREAMS AGO
In the early part of 1969 I had already been at college a few months and broken up with my first girlfriend when an amazing young lady crossed my path and, as it subsequently turned out, would help lay out the blueprint for all that was to follow. For this narrative her true identity shall remain anonymous, but for the sake of giving her a name, let’s call her Lilly.
Lynchburg, Virginia was itself an amazing place to be in the late 1960’s. In the middle of this centuries old bastion of stubborn Bible belt conservatism there was a small shining nebulae of radical awareness and open-minded liberal activism. Within the Lynchburg College campus and the surrounding countryside were a surprising number of unique, liberal and very individualistic people. This was true of both a small minority of the students, and some very outstanding faculty members. One of these faculty members was Mr. Charles Barrett, the professor who taught the creative writing class. Dr. Barrett directed the Freshman English program at the College from 1960-1979 and taught a variety of writing courses. He was an old school professor, but very open minded and extremely intelligent. I always thought of him as being straight out of the mold of say, a Hemingway-ish kind of literary figure, with combed back grey hair, salt and peppered moustache, with a strongly sculptured face. He was an exacting, hard master in his courses. And those qualities are what made learning under him so worthwhile. There was a story about him back then that before the United States entered into World War II he was one of the American aviators who were secretly recruited into the British Royal Air Forces as pilots. American citizens were prohibited from serving in the British forces under the various US Neutrality Acts; if an American citizen had defied strict neutrality laws, there was a risk of losing their citizenship and imprisonment. I seem to recall him telling me about how he had volunteered for 50 missions, completed them successfully and then volunteered for 50 more. He was shot down on the 49th one but managed to bail out of his burning plane. One thing was for sure, he did have burn scars around his ears where his hair had been singed away.
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Lilly was one of those unique individuals who came from the countryside, having grown up in southwestern rural Virginia. She was extremely intelligent, well read, an excellent writer, creative and slender and, at least in my opinion, very beautiful. Not exactly the normal product of the conservative close-minded environment that existed there at the time, and for that fact still does. Lilly was special. I don’t recall exactly how or where or when it was that we first met, but what I do recall is that she seemed magical. She was filled with what seemed to be an ancient knowledge, a kind of wisdom that was far beyond that which her 20 years would have led one to believe was possible. She had the kind of personality that lit up any room she entered, pixie Peter Pan-ish like, with a smile that was contagious. And although she had her moments and her moods, she seldom let them surface for air.
Lilly had been at the college for a while before I got there and she had good connections to Mr. Barrett’s creative writing class. I was fortunate in so far that, as we became involved with each other, I naturally showed her some of my early attempts at poetry. She thought enough of them to show a few to Dr. Barrett, who reacted favourably and agreed to accept me into his creative writing class at the beginning of my sophomore year. I probably could have gotten into his class on my own merits, but it was through her efforts and support that the way was made so much easier. Lilly became my muse and inspiration. Those were indeed magical times. We’d borrow rooms in our friends’ off campus houses to have our trysts, since the dorm rooms were off limits for any kind of mixed fraternizing. Even after these many decades I can recall her distinct smell and taste. Lilly oozed creativity and inspiration. And she filled me with it.
Spring came and the first year of college ended. I went back home to Virginia Beach for the summer to irritate my parents by hanging out on the boardwalk all summer long and not working. Lilly returned to her home too and we kept in touch by mail. In August I hitchhiked up to Woodstock a week before the festival started with a guy and his sister that I met on the boardwalk and ended up working there for the duration of the festival and for a week afterward. Naturally I didn’t behave myself there and ended up bringing back home with me some uninvited little guests that I was blissfully unaware of until some three weeks later when, back on campus and back together with Lilly, I promptly shared them with her. Ouch. That quickly became the end of both them, and, sadly, the end of my relationship with Lilly. Nothing like being young and stupid. I always have said in the past and it is true that I really regret very little of the experiences in my past, but I do regret that I let Lilly slip away so easily. I was more embarrassed than sensible and it must have seemed easier to turn my back on the whole muddle I had made of things at the time. Sigh. As one can imagine, I probably threw away a whole lifetime of creativity and inspiration. But when you’re twenty, irresponsible and carefree you don’t have the advantage of 45 years of hindsight. Lilly eventually disappeared beyond the horizon, probably got married and pursued her dreams and I continued on my haphazard odyssey through my life. But I never forgot what she did for and to me. A few years ago on one of my visits to the States I did eventually find out where she was and wrote a simple note per e-mail expressing my thanks and gratitude for all that she had given me back then. And left it at that. Of course she didn’t reply. Some boxes of memories are better left closed. But thanks to Lilly, I got a running start on what I consider, among my many and varied undertakings in life, my true occupation, that of being a poet.
And I have been telling this story as a way of leading up to the presentation, as I start this blog, of one of those early poetical works inspired by Lilly, one which she found worthy enough to present to Professor Barrett as an example of my writing back in early 1969. Thanks Lilly, once again, for everything…
be happy it’s…or ratherfamily
talbot thawlet thought he had a family
until he couldn’t find it.
then everyone supposed he had trouble.
ah, not so, thought crafty talbot,
because i don’t have a family to find,
i will make one…!
thus he did,
taking first several jars of empty mustard
and combining them with a pound of
chopped palm trees,
he shaped and formed molds and sidewalks
as rather cheerful footsteps poured in.
then, at the very bottom end of the mold, far down,
he inscribed his entrails.
it could have been his officials.
and because of the rather cheerful foottaps
he called his family ratherfamily.
one word, ratherfamily…
the task completed, he put his boots on
and went gaily to his god in dupont circle.
when on i return, he said to ratherfamily,
you’d better be! and ratherfamily shook
their heads dusting them off, yes!
at his got in duponce de leon circum
he worked very hard making rivets for frog voices.
frogs always appreciate a good ribet now and then
and talbot would always stamp them out
nice and big and shiny.
one time, the city of heartford remembers
he stamped one side ways instead of upside out
and one of the grofs in heartache ate a television tower.
stamped u. s. postage can be vitally dangerous
in the throats of temperamental rofgs…
meanwhile, ratherfoamy, who kept a few frogs
themselves, still was.
only they called the rivets whipples,
because their frogs often had sore throats.
therefore, that being the case,
they couldn’t whistle, but they could whipple.
be that as it may, but only when they could let it,
ratherfaculty waited for talbot to retire home…
talbot, with his lavender knee socks,
left duplex cricket to go.
i hoop that ratherfabian is still, he said
removing the sign that read no smoking,
the sign, already in the fifth grade, could read well.
pocketing a few ripples as he stood on the freight car,
he got off and walked up to the house.
up was one of the few frogs themselves
that always waited for him.
when talbot opened the door,
having been mortally wounded
by the forty-three archers dressed in saran wrap,
waiting by the steps,
he looked inside,
and after mowing the lawn
and burning the leaves and stems,
he discovered ratherfamily
not there still…
*lynchburg, virginia, spring 1969*
Carnegie Hall, Lynchburg College, where Prof. Barrett’s creative writing class was held.
© 2014 nightpoet all rights reserved