Our most recent look at my childhood writing explored a survey of poetry I wrote for my seventh grade English class. I mentioned that I also kept a personal poetry journal during that time, and today I cracked it open and winced my way through. Unlike most of the other early work I've shared, these poems weren't written for school assignments, so it's possible they've never been seen by anyone else until now. Exciting, huh?
The journal is a cloth-covered blank book I probably received as a gift from a relative, perhaps at holiday time, since the first poem is dated shortly after the beginning of 1988. In fact, it commemorates the start of the year:
Trumpets, whistles, laughing, singing
In the dark,
Without a sound
The new year comes in
The structure of this poem seems influenced by the forms we were studying in class, particularly the diamond poem, but here and throughout this collection, I experimented with different styles. Incidentally, I likely spent that New Year's Eve either watching a Marx Brothers movie marathon or sitting in a wood-fired hot tub surrounded by snow. Either way, there was definitely no kissing involved, but there was certainly some singing.
I continued writing poems in this book throughout 1988, the year I turned 13, but the entries are sporadic, and the vast majority of the pages remain blank. I expect I knew even then that my path to literary fame didn't lie in poetry.
The next poem is the one I retained the strongest memory of and most dreaded facing, though I'm sure I was very pleased with it at the time:
An empty face,
With grief behind the eye-mirrors,
Reflecting back on happy days that bring no smiles.
A sad sigh,
Of sorrows and times gone by,
Ne'er to come again.
An ache of longing,
Of crying though the tear-well's dry.
A black dress of mourning.
That's an Extremely Serious And Weighty Composition right there. You can tell by the "ne'er".
As it happens, I distinctly recall my inspiration for this grief-stricken poem. I'd heard that a neighborhood dog was hit by a car, and later that day I saw one of the kids from that family at school, staring into the distance. Sure, I realized he was probably thinking about lunch or homework, but I connected the look on his face with his recent loss, and I was visited by the muse.
the Moon sits silently
waiting for the Sun to
complete her journey down the sky
the Moon stands positioned
ready to pounce
the Evening Star appears --
ever higher up the sky
shining full and
round the sky he chases
the Evening Star
for he is not the
Moon but an
This entry owes much to the "place line breaks at random" school of poetry. Note the clever double use of "round", which owes much to the Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat school.
I'll confess that I don't entirely understand the twist at the end of the poem.
The flag, billowing like a sail,
That propels the ship of peace,
Slides slowly, reluctantly,
Down the pole
Into the waiting arms
Of the eight figures,
And the torch is extinguished
The lanterns spell "Good Bye"
It is over.
See you in Barcelona!
I don't get this one either. No, ha ha, of course this poem is a tediously straightforward description of the closing ceremony for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. I guess I must have been into the Summer Games that year, but I have much stronger memories of playing the video game on my Apple IIc.
Catch a falling star,
Ride a passing wave,
Dance with silver moonbeams,
Explore a jeweled cave.
Turn into a flower,
Spread your wings and fly,
Find a pot of gold,
Paint the evening sky.
Sing operas with the nightingales,
Knit sweaters out of sheep,
Become a goblin blacksmith,
Dive into the ocean deep.
Braid ribbons through a lion's mane,
Wear a crown of golden flowers,
Then climb down from the apple tree,
Where you sit and think for hours.
I'm sharing more than half of the poems in this small collection, and "Imagining" is representative of several I've skipped in that it has regular rhyming stanzas and focuses on celestial bodies and phenomena, flora, and fauna. One of the lesser poems actually includes the line "sunshine flowers birds and daffodils".
The final poems in the book extend into 1989, and there we find the entry that made me cringe the most. I hesitated to post this one, not because of any emotional subject matter (apparently I wasn't too big on that, bucking teen poetry stereotypes), but because it's so embarrassingly weird. Experimental, I suppose that's called.
We began this journey through my juvenilia with the story of The Craziest Rainbow. Dear readers, it turns out my take on rainbows could get a whole lot crazier:
red blue green yellow orange purrrple
orangeyellow orangeyellow yellowhot lavayell-ow
Blue Blue Blue Blue greenBlue Blue blue blue
I am gold
I am bluepurplegreen
Red is fire
Red is blood and gore
Black is dead
white is life black is dead
rain of green
and of blue and red
red and green
I'm sorry you had to see that.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ John McPhee looks back on his long career of magazine writing and considers what he's learned about the art of omission: "To cause a reader to see in her mind's eye an entire autumnal landscape, for example, a writer needs to deliver only a few words and images--such as corn shocks, pheasants, and an early frost. The creative writer leaves white space between chapters or segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Leave judgment in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author. If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost."