Saturday, December 5, 2009
The Lineup - Poems on Crime
In eighth grade literature class I had to write a poem once a week. I kind of hated it. I can still recall the frustration of having this deep emotion I wanted to convey, yet being totally unable to transfer it to paper. And I still remember lines from some of the awful poems. One had the saccharine title of Love Be In Clover. This was during the Vietnam War, which easily explains the first two lines:
So you’re gonna go and fight,
You do what you think is right.
This very well could have been my first piece of writing. It was pretentious, phony, awful, and I knew it.
When Gerald So asked me to submit a poem to be considered for The Lineup 3, poems on crime, my first reaction was to tell him no thanks. I don’t write poetry. I don’t know anything about poetry. And the lines of the above poem kept circling in my head. So you’re gonna go and fight….
But I can’t resist a challenge, so I decided to give it a try. I spent several hours working on a poem. Here’s what I came up with:
He holds me
And whispers, “I adore.”
He pushes and whispers, “My darling.”
A rush of air, a splash
I descend through water, past broken moonlight
Past slumbering fish
Toes and fingers rake the river bottom
Stirring up sediment
The current coaxes
Water moves across skin
Hair sweeps my eyes
In death, I swim.
It was okay, but certainly nothing special. Like my eighth grade poem, it felt forced and kind of phony, written from the outside instead of the inside.
But it was done and that was that. I would proof it one more time before emailing it to Gerald in the morning. But then an odd thing happened. That evening another poem popped into my head almost fully formed. I wrote it in about five minutes, wondering where in the hell it had come from, because I’d had no plans to write more than one poem. Not even on my agenda. With that piece, I managed to capture 90% of what I wanted to convey. It was also very different from what I would have consciously tried to write. The second one came from me, and it felt authentic. That second poem ended up being chosen for next year’s poetry chapbook.