On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Monday, June 3, 2013

VSCC 2013 Poetry Award

Recently I attended the Arts Festival at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee, where I was presented with the certificate shown and a cash award for one of my poems, "On the Hunt."  This poem along with two others of mine were published in the 2013 edition of the literary journal, Number One, which has been publishing fiction and poetry of writers from around the country since 1972.  Before retiring from the college, where I served as Director of the Writing Center and taught English, I also was for ten years managing editor of Number One.  While in that capacity, I introduced the practice of "blind readings" so the submissions editors would not be influenced one way or another by seeing the names of writers familiar to them.  This innovation has been deemed the most fair way to determine who is accepted for publication.  As I mentioned, I had in addition to the award-winning poem, another two poems published in the current edition, all of which I have included below.

On the Hunt                                       

It usually takes a while to get there,
Those places deliciously remote from city centers
In barns or old houses or cement block buildings.
We go prepared, armed to the teeth,
You with jeweler’s loupe and measuring tape,
A price guide in my hand.

Inside, you always go to the left,
I turn to the right and go my own way,
Refusing to follow you with the sharper eye.
I thrill at the thought of discovery,
Moriage or Staffordshire dogs
At a bargain price.

But all I see are things I gave to charities
Or sold at garage sales years ago.
Down one aisle I find my mother’s kitchen,
Her Jewel Tea mixing bowls no one liked,
A smiling pig cookie jar now worth hundreds
Sitting on the same green Formica table.

I pass people sober and intent on spotting
The rare, the ancient, the beautiful.
Others may only want to capture memories
Or fill some vacant place on a shelf.
Hunters and gatherers,
We seek another way to define ourselves.

Words and Meaning                                 

I have been contemplating
A phrase I came upon,
“Walk with light,”
Which at first suggests
The avowal of religions,
Helping us to see a road through life
That we may tread with joy,
Our senses open to the beautiful,
A heart relieved of burdens;
I see a stony path made smoother
By enlightenment of soul.

Or is the phrase more worldly:
Pressing us to keep our minds
Brim full of knowledge and lore,
Like a pot of stewing ideas,
Or to be a fount of information
From which others can set store.
We should not settle, it says,
For the dark and hopeless way
Of vague understanding
Or blind ignorance.

Then again, “walk with light”
May only be a helpful plea
To watch the traffic signal
Before we take the plunge
Into a busy street.

Big Wheels 
It was while driving along
Through Arkansas that we began
To feel oppressed, as if we didn’t belong,
Sandwiched between two semis,
With trucks rolling by on both sides.
Not from just the big rigs
That roam the interstates at will,
But also bullying pickups and duallys.
We seemed outclassed, outsmarted,
In a word, small.

We drove farther south and west,
Trucks keeping up their threats,
Riding our bumper, honking, passing.
We stayed away from gas stations
With blaring signs of, “Truckers Welcome!”
We shopped a long while for a motel
Where the hulking beasts weren’t parked
And set off next morning at the crack of dawn
Hoping to steal a march on them.
But wise to the trick, they soon came along.

If Arkansas is a terminal for trucks,
Texas seems to be a truck haven.
They live there, maybe breed there.
And worst of all, they seem fighting mad.
One day while waiting at a stop light
We were rear-ended by a small truck.
From the window of an eatery we watched in horror
As an SUV backed into our car like it wasn’t there
Often they pass us with no room to spare
Then forced by a red light to stop, pant, and paw.

We haven’t relented yet,
Unwilling to join in the mania.
Or maybe the truck that suits us
Hasn’t yet been made.
But I must admit I’ve been eyeing
Certain big wheels that take over the road
And I’ve wondered, really wondered
What it would be like to get behind the wheel
Of a gravel truck so I could yell,
“Just eat my dust, you all!”

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