Sunday, June 26, 2011

Poetry - really?

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

The Wood Floors

Cold nights. Warm afternoons.
Inside this old house it remains
Cold in the daylight, warmer in the evenings --
Echoing the weather
Like a lingering memory.

Candles and incense always burning --
As though anticipating a séance.
The room looks old, but not ancient.
Sometimes familiar and cozy,
Occasionally haunting.

The sound of pots clashing come from
The nearby kitchen -- followed by
A white and black skinny cat
Emerging from the cupboard under the sink.
He doesn’t live here.
There’s a hole in the back wall
Leading to underneath the house.
The house sits above the ground --
About two and a half feet.
A place where animals come to die
I was told when I moved in.

He told me once my house smelled old --
That I even smelled like my house.
As I sit here alone in my candlelit room,
I think about his comment;
Then blow out the flames
And listen to the sounds of
My footsteps creaking
On the wood floors.

~ Kelly Seiler
Persona magazine, 1987

I had not ever written poetry until I met Darryl Smyers in 1986, my senior year in college. He had past-the-shoulders dark hair and even darker eyes. He wore a long black trenchcoat and red high-top tennis shoes. It was hard not to notice him around a campus in Texas and I was aware of who he was before I met him. He was also the editor of Persona, the annual creative literary magazine of Southwest Texas State University (they have since lost the misnomer “Southwest”).

Darryl introduced himself and asked me to be on the committee, with a stipulation that I write at least one poem for the issue. I almost balked, but he had collected an interesting group of people for the committee and I was intrigued. (And we all had such a blast!) He also later traveled to Seguin, Texas, with me while I photographed a farm family that I knew from a college friend back my first year when I had been a math major. Some of those photographs were chosen by Darryl to be included in the publication, including on the cover.

Poetry did not come easy for me (as things rarely do) and Darryl was without a doubt a patient, but straight-to-the-point instructor. His basic advice was to get more specific. The hand-written notes in the margins of my first feeble attempts at poetry include his words, “Far too ambiguous; try being weirder.” and “not too many will get this. Use images to express your pain, not just simple sentences. It ain’t easy, not nothing is.”

I had been focusing on some personal sap based on a failed romance that I was still recovering from and after that particular critique, I switched topics. I hope you enjoy my perhaps-final attempt at poetry, the description of the house I rented during this time, and Darryl’s perception of me in it. And Darryl’s advice is good for the visual arts as well. Try being weirder… ha. Do not gloss over with sentiment. Get into the meat of what you feel. Be specific. Describe your own path in your own terms.

P.S. Incidentally, I wrote the first four lines of “The Wood Floors” after that critique. Darryl scrawled in response, “This kicks ass. Concrete imagery, more of this -- less of I, me, my, mine.” Later, another friend Jamshid said that that explained how the first part did not really feel the same as the rest.

It was this poem that taught me how to spell ‘occasion’ -- Darryl told me after publication that my error of the double Ss made it almost to the end, when one of the professors caught it. Funny how these things stick in one’s memory while other stuff fades.

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