Sunday, December 23, 2012

Poet Who Did Know It

One of the aspects of my writing career that hasn't been emphasized here is that I am a poet.

I know, it caught me by surprise, too, when it started taking shape.  The first poem I remember writing of any note was about Lee Harvey Oswald in eighth grade (seventh?).  It was an aberration.  After taking a trip to Boston in my freshmen year of college, I struck on the idea to commemorate it by writing a series of poems about it, and got pretty far along, but...still didn't feel like an actual poet.

Then I started attending the University of Maine.  For some reason, much as my home town of Lisbon, Maine, inexplicably experienced a surge of musical talent in the early 1990s, the Orono campus practically fell face-first into poetry during my time studying English.  There were a number of teachers who were themselves poets, and I took classes from them, but it was the students who kept taking the same ones, and who formed such a close-knit group that several of us launched a short-lived literary journal of our own that really solidified the time for me.

When I graduated, most of these classmates had also moved on.  By the time I moved out of state a year later, I saw the journal come to an end, despite my best long-distance efforts to keep it afloat.  I started composing new work in earnest, thanks to my emerging habit of keeping a notebook on me at all times, so I could always make a note of inspiration.  In March of 2005, I composed "(The) Beat," the first of what I considered my mature poetry.  And I just kept writing the stuff.

Eventually I started a personal challenge of writing a poem mostly on a daily basis, one hundred at a time, the first beginning in the summer of 2007.  I've since completed five of them.

I'm mentioning this now because I've just made the first of them available as a collection, Terror of Knowing.
The funny thing is, the only piece of advice I got just before graduation was to try and make an official career in the world of poetry.  I had just finished participating in a class that explored the vital world of contemporary poems, during which I was able to write a number of essays, and the advice was to submit these around.  At the time I didn't take the advice seriously, since I wanted to pitch a book called Tug Rushmore and had actually asked advice about that, and I didn't feel comfortable enough in my comprehension of poetry outside of that class to consider asserting myself in any regard.

Besides, I had tried submitting poems to publications outside of the UMaine system and come up empty.  (The same reaction that would greet so many of my later literary submissions.)  Perhaps a little like Emily Dickinson, I might be doomed to be a poet not read in their own lifetime.  (This is the only mark of comparison I'm willing to make between myself and Emily Dickinson, by the way.)

Like all of my poetry, rhyming is not the first rule of Terror.  In fact, there's little rhyming to be found. As my descriptions for the collection assert, the major theme in the major poem is the Metaphysics of Value, my extrapolation of Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a book I discovered at UMaine, by the way).  Much of my poetry is simply my experience of the world, and mostly thought-wise.  What distinguishes Terror of Knowing is that there remains a significant remnant of the experiments I studied in UMaine classrooms.  Basically philosophy from your average joe.

It's marked as the first volume in the New Fade cycle, which links Terror to a poetic statement that predates "(The) Beat" (which is not in this collection), titled appropriately enough "The New Fade."  This is my conception of the modern age.  "New Fade" roughly translates to the increasingly quick way we cycle through eras, believing that we're escaping the barbarous past even as we complain about all the barbarity around us.  I wrote "The New Fade" in 2002 following a trip with my brother to New Jersey to visit relatives (including my godfather, a concept that seems strange today and not just because I myself am one), during a summer that saw some of my first independent experiments as a poet.

Why am I putting this out now?  I guess more or less to assert this part of my literary life, much as I have as a novelist (The Cloak of Shrouded Men) and short story writer (Monorama), all in the self-publishing realm.  Being a poem has dominated my self-identity for a decade.  It only felt right to make at least one record of it.


  1. Congratulations! Admire anyone who can write poetry, let alone both poetry and prose. (Not a chance I could write it.)
    Seems poetry is really difficult to make one's mark in these days. Hope you achieve your success in your lifetime though!
    Have a great Christmas, Tony.

    1. Thanks, Alex.

      You have a merry tomorrow, too!

  2. I've never been into poetry, writing it or reading it. From what I gather, most poets aren't very successful so that's probably just as well. Someone I know on Facebook edits a journal that includes poetry. I tried to read the poetry but I have no idea what's good or bad, much like most of high culture: classical music, paintings, wine, etc.

    1. Most people tend to drastically overthink poetry. They try too hard to write it and to read it. The best poets are surely transcendental. You don't need to know why Prufrock measured his life in coffee spoons, though if you get that, it probably helps everything make that much more sense.

      It's not just rhyming. It's not just imagery and funny words. In its best form, poetry should be the easiest thing to read.

  3. Great idea Tony. I never thought of you as a poet, but I'm sure you're great at it.


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