Madwoman by the Sea
Comite Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Writing and publishing poetry will get you absolutely nowhere, unless you're a Big Name with a Huge Following. I'm a little name with a minuscule following but poetry was one of my (many) passions in my early years.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties I read just about every poetry book I could find. Having already been a journalist by the time I was sixteen, I was fairly familiar with the rudiments of writing. For some unearthly reason, I thought that being a poet was a lofty endeavor. To actually be a published poet was one of my main obsessions (in retrospect, heaven knows why).
It didn't take long before I achieved my goal. When I was nineteen, a small collection of my poetry was published in a Los Angeles literary magazine - the name of which I can't even remember (I honestly can't, but I still have a copy of it somewhere).
To abbreviate a tedious story, within a decade I had over 100 poems published in an impressive variety of literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. I received numerous awards for my poetry and recognition that I never thought I deserved.
When I was only twenty, some of my poetry was nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize (which had been awarded to such noted poets as Joyce Carol Oates). I didn't win, of course, but it was one helluva honor just to be nominated.
My poetic romanticism eventually dwindled, to the point that I now seldom bother to write a poem (let alone read one). There's absolutely no financial gain in writing poetry - - only spiritual satisfaction. Spiritual satisfaction is wonderful, but it doesn't pay the bills.
Writing poetry is a deeply personal endeavor and one should do it solely for personal enrichment and fulfillment. I find it to be an extremely effective emotional catharsis - as are all forms of writing (or so they should be).
I compiled many of my early poems into a book, which was published five years ago. Love Letters to Ghosts is, probably more than anything, a lament (and a sort of homage) to my romantic and turbulent past. It's largely what I would call an autumnal work -- dark, brooding, and often depressing. It reflects my inherent nature - - but it's certainly not to everyone's taste.
Upon recently rereading the poems, I feel that a revised second edition is definitely in order. I'm in the process of doing this now - - mostly as a feeble attempt to fulfill my lifelong strive for unattainable perfection. And the fact that I'm presently snowed in.
Who were some of the poets that inspired you, Jon?
I'm glad you asked. Since I lived in L.A. when I began writing poetry, I was initially attracted to California poets - - especially Philip Levine, Gary Soto, David St. John. I also liked John Ratti, Louise Gluck, Lucille Clifton. I loved Carl Sandburg. And when I was drunk and in the mood to go slumming, I savored Allen Ginsberg and other residents of the "Beat" neighborhood.
My favorite poet and greatest influence was Thomas James (1946-74) whose fiercely somber and introspective poetry collection Letters to a Stranger touched me deeply. I strongly identified with his troubled psyche. I was devastated, but not surprised, when I learned that he committed suicide at age twenty-seven. Had he lived, he would have been an extraordinary poet.
Thomas James influenced me. Sylvia Plath influenced Thomas James. Go figure.......
Most of your poetry is in prose, Jon. Don't poems have to rhyme?
I've written many poems with rhythmic structure. It's wonderfully challenging, but I find it to be too creatively restrictive.
Isn't it rather - uh, effeminate to be a poet?
Hey, writing a decent poem will put hair on your chest and increase your testosterone level. I speak from experience. And I know some female poets who have balls.
(where the hell are these questions coming from?).
In conclusion (and not a moment too soon)
I believe that poetry shouldn't be over-analyzed. Extract what you want from it and savor the words. Savor the images that they inspire
Keeping in concert with my present Poetry Mode, I'm posting one of my early poems, which is included in Love Letters to Ghosts.
Mad Woman on the Beach was inspired by a composition by French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, entitled la chanson de la folle au bord de la mer (Song of the Mad Woman by the Sea).
Mad Woman on the Beach
One of these cold winter nights
she followed the sand
back to where secret lovers
once lingered while watching
a last slice of sinking moon
but the moon and the lovers
were gone, leaving no trace
of their deception. Sightless fog
slipping in from the sea
weaved a pasty net around her.
the bite of broken shells
punished her trek.
Names long forgotten
stuttered under her breath,
faltered on her tongue,
stuck with the salt on her lips
like the dried-out memory
of an ancient kiss.
In shivers of jealous rage
the cold air thickened
and held her tightly,
fearing that she might find the moon
snatch it up
and keep it hidden within herself
from the lies of future lovers.
She struggled against the cold
anchor of fog,
the dreadful hiss of the waves,
and laughed out loud -
grasping fistfuls of obstinate night,
what might have been sky.
from Love Letters to Ghosts
Yesterday on my previous blog post, someone (name unknown) left a nice comment that somehow wound up in my comment moderation file.
When I pressed the "publish" icon the comment suddenly disappeared and I haven't been able to retrieve it. Whoever you are, I apologize for this. You weren't deleted deliberately.