Poet in the making

I have always written poetry, both prose form and metered verse. Although I scribbled lines in my own version of a journal, a favorite memory recalls sitting at my grandparents’ typewriter pouring out my heart line by line. I suppose I made up for lack of talent with a boatload of youthful sincerity or teenage angst.

I graduated from San Gabriel High School in 1970. Our 50th reunion was scrapped last year for obvious reasons. One more anniversary lost to the tolls of pandemic restrictions. I can’t honestly say that I would have attended, but I had been flirting with the idea.

I recently came across a high school creative writing journal containing my published submission, “The Sea.”

There are so many lines in this piece that make me smile, or maybe cringe just a little. I don’t think I have ever seen the skeleton of a perch, and “the tempestuous, driving forces” were more likely a reference to the emotional drama of that age and stage.

Simple and sentimental prose poem aside, it is true that the ocean is my favorite thinking spot. Now that we are able to move about with fewer restrictions we are back to spending time at the beach. Throughout 2020 we drove to watch the waves, but for the first time in my life we didn’t spend one day sitting on the sand. Some of our beaches were closed to the public, and others, when available, were just too crowded for my comfort.

Fortunately, we have returned.

I graduated in June of 1970 and three months later entered a private liberal arts college.

Finally I could study what most interested me. I promptly enrolled in an English course, “Metaphysical Poetry.” I don’t know how I managed to sign up for a course without reading the course description, but that’s exactly what I did.

I don’t specifically recall my expectations, but I think I had interchanged my limited ideas of “psychedelic” with “metaphysical” and placed the poets somewhere between Rod McKuen and Bob Dylan. I was shocked when the course syllabus hit my hand and I realized I would now be studying the works of Francis Bacon, John Donne, Milton, Spenser and others.

I remember being disappointed and a little confused, immediately overwhelmed and out of my depth. I also recall the moment I learned that I really did enjoy allegory and I was determined to decode the rather dense works. I must have managed to do well enough to get through it, as I don’t recall a poor outcome. (As opposed to dropping out of a Biology class when the fetal pig was brought in for dissection.)

This all took place a long time ago!

I own a lovely volume of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene, the Coronation Edition, dedicated to Elizabeth I, and published 350 years following her reign at the Coronation of Elizabeth II. It is indeed a spectacular book filled with intricate illustration plates, and I sit with it from time to time relishing the beauty of Early Modern English.

It’s fascinating to me, but reading an epic poem circa 1590 makes me feel young again.

Age is relative, isn’t it?

And poetry is timeless.

43 thoughts on “Poet in the making

  1. Yes, and yes, my beautiful friend – right on both counts. And poetry is marvellous for unwinding, don’t you feel ?: you start with trepidation and end with calm.
    Alas for me, the only early poem of mine I found was in the student newspaper of our Monash University, “Lot’s Wife”, wherein I wrote tragically of the littering habit around the Student Union building .. [grin]

    • Oh my, but I’m laughing right along with you. The things that were on our minds when we were young! The challenges we felt so strongly about. And we were, if nothing else, very sincere in our convictions if they ended up in a poem. LOL! I Ihope you have a copy of your “Lot’s Wife.” I discarded all of my old scribblings long, long ago, and that was foolish. I was embarrassed by the quality, and I didn’t have any sense of how when I got to be “this age!” I’d welcome those youthful trivialities I do love to read poetry, M-R, for just what you’re saying, too. The unwinding! Thanks so much for sharing with me. πŸ™‚

    • That is one ancient poem, Frank. LOL! I was at the beach this week and found myself writing while sitting under my umbrella, so it’s likely a “seaside” poem will appear at some point. πŸ™‚ Thank you for the nudge in that direction, and for your kind encouragement!

    • Don’t you feel that way about so many courses when we were young? I wish I’d cared a lot more than just being concerned about the grade, but that’s youth! I love your comment about understanding part of it–Milton. I don’t remember very much of what I learned all the way back in that English class 1970-71, but it was an introduction that at least has kept me interested this many years. To this day I feel like when I read these old English poets I am thrilled when I can say I understand any at all! πŸ™‚

  2. So pleased to hear that you’ve been reunited with your timeless sea. Being on the beach helps me stay sane. Silence creates space for clarity . . .

    • Thank you, Nancy. It felt like a true homecoming when we first started going back to the beach a couple of weeks ago. I sat and watched surfers and shorebirds and just stared at the waves with nothing else going on in my head. It may be one of the only places I can go where I can relax in quite that way! πŸ™‚

  3. I don’t write poetry at all, though I’ve occasionally dabbled, Debbie. And funnily enough, almost always at the shore. Must be something in the glint of sunlight on water that sets the words dancing πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ That book must be beautiful, and well done to you for getting stuck into the course! I suspect many would have dropped out. But I did have a chuckle!

  4. Indeed, age is relative. Nevertheless, fun to see where you once came from. Even young as we still are, both perspective and experience have change over the years, haven’t they. As for the society opening up again, albeit slowly, I think we all start to feel the relief, even if normalcy is still some distance away.

    • I don’t know what normal will be like for any of us, Otto, and I’m sure you have some of those same questions. But for now, the simplest of pleasures, like sitting on sand and watching waves, is about all I’m needing right now. I hope you and your family are doing well, my friend. I know there is no one who hasn’t been deeply affected by this past year.

  5. I feel relief knowing you can get to your beach. I love love love the ocean but I prefer a rocky beach (think of Ireland’s cliff coasts πŸ˜‰ ) But I so adore the mountains, they call me constantly. We did got for some self catered trips last year, shorter than normal, in place of our Ireland trip. And we are again planning a mountain trip. Reading your words about sitting by the ocean….I felt those.

    And I found your 12th grade writing…completely NOT cringe-worthy. πŸ™‚ It took me back to those teenage years, and back again now. Your appreciation for what soothes you so evident.

    • Thank you so much, Colleen, for so sincerely commenting with kindness towards my youthful writing. I do think that the beauty of the ocean and the peace that is always offered is powerful enough to come through even in my juvenile words. πŸ™‚ I hope that it won’t be long before you are able to travel again to Ireland. I know that it calls you, and you must be so eager to return! Won’t it be an even greater reunion when you finally find that opening after such a forced separation. Meanwhile, whatever more local natural beauty is available is so important to us in reaching for well-being. I do hope that you and your family are doing well, after such a rough year, Colleen.

      • Thank you Debra. You are so correct. I wasn’t disappointed about Ireland (not in the grand scheme of things). Other people were/are going through such sorrow that me not going to Ireland seemed so very minor. It does call to me constantly but I am so very grateful for the trips I’ve had. I can always return in my thoughts. We have long talked about seeing more of ‘here’. We have always filled long weekends and short weeks with road trips, I do love those! We have also been very blessed to remain relatively healthy. I hope the same for you. I know you suffered loss, and I hope your heart is healing.

        • You’re very kind. All is well, Colleen, and I think that your approach and attitude of acceptance about personal restrictions, is so in keeping with who you are, my friend. I like to think that most everyone should be able to understand how much so many people have suffered in this past year, but I’ve sadly heard quite a bit of complaining. It makes me cringe. When you do visit Ireland again, it will be all the sweeter!

          • Such world wide impact….I’m sorry that we’ve seen it but it sure has brought out the amazing in people (and the not so amazing of others).

            I will be blessed to return Debra.


  6. The sea has the same effect on me. I always thought I would retire to a seaside community but on the east coast housing there is outrageous! Perhaps I will make a trip there this summer. As for poetry, I’m afraid I’m more a limerick person. They are so fun to do especially at a party with wine.

    • Limericks have their place, Kate! LOL! A glass of wine at the beach is a bonus towards creativity. πŸ™‚ I hope you have some ocean visits in the near future. Enjoy!

  7. Debra, I enjoyed reading about your journey with poetry. I have always loved reading poetry, and haven’t felt much gift for it. You wrote better prose than me in 12th grade, and enjoyed your musings about the sea. It’s fun to be able to look back at our past writing and have tenderness for the person we once had been. Thanks for sharing this. Karen

    • Karen, I love the way you expressed yourself in this comment. Thank you. I hadn’t put it in quite the same terms, but you’re right. I do look back at my youthful silliness with tenderness for who I once was. That’s a very special way to think about the swirling nostalgia! Thank you, my friend. I hope you are well. Truly.

  8. Finding personally ancient stuff is, as you say, sometimes surprising and sometimes cringe-worthy. I have notebooks that date back to high school, filled with partial short stories, song lyrics, and attempts at poetry. To me poetry is the highest calling and to call myself a poet when I was young seemed unbearably pretentious. These days, I still aspire but have become comfortable with responding “poet” when someone asks me what I do.

    • I like the way you own your talents, Jim, and think when poetry is a significant calling in your life, that’s just who you are! I admire the fact that you’ve held onto your notebooks across time. I was very shortsighted when I let my pride intervene, and out of embarrassment that someone might discover my stash of poor quality, I slowly eliminated them. I would love to have them now. There is a wealth of poetry that inspires me, and whenever I feel the need to quiet myself, that’s where I go! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Bridget. I can make a fairly good list of the poets we studied in that course, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I recall precisely how “metaphysical” was applied. I can guess, but I’d like to understand better, too! πŸ™‚

  9. I loved the poems of John Donne when I was a teenager studying English at A level. And that love has never died! I used to relish memorizing lines for essays and tests, but a poor memory means I often reach for my poetry books to remind me of those days! How wonderful to have such a precious volume of The Faerie Queen too. I learned back then that Metaphysical referred to the constant reference to and use of science and scientific metaphors in the poetry – and such science which was new or even beyond the understanding of many at that time. But I am not sure if that is the actual defintion. Must look it up!

    • Actually, Cathy, I think that’s about the best definition of Metaphysical poetry as I’ve seen. Thank you for that! And I do love John Donne. Of the poets we studied at that time, and again I repeat that was a long time ago!, Donne was a standout. I don’t often recall favorite lines well enough to recite, but I have little flags in most of my poetry books marking the spots that go to time and again. I never did have a wonderful memory for reciting, so I comfort myself in knowing it isn’t just age! 😊

  10. Fascinating Debra and you made me laugh! The fetal pig would have finished me too, a cow’s eyeball was difficult enough. I came to poetry rather late in life, a detailed analysis of the poems of Robert Frost at school having put me off poetry for years. It wasnt Frost it was the analysis and I now love his and other poetry.

    • Poetry, and all forms of literature, seem to find us when we need them. I think there are times we don’t have the capacity to sit and dwell, which poetry requires. I understand the later arrival of appreciation for the poetry of Robert Frost, . It sounds almost heretical, but for most of my life I didn’t really appreciate Emily Dickinson all that much, and didn’t know why. Today, I do. We change!

      I remember the day in Biology like it was yesterday. I walked out and never did take Biology. Years later I went back to school and needed the course as a pre-requisite, and saw in my old transcripts the professor had given me a C, for a dropped class. I think he must have felt sorry for me. I was very upset when those pigs were rolled in! πŸ™‚

  11. Very good Debra – I enjoyed your Grade 12 poem very much. Lots of wonderfully ‘visual’ lines. It occurs to me that the Sea swallows many secrets and does not give them up again easily! The ‘Perch’ in the verse struck me as odd… It’s a fresh water fish. I guess the angler took it to the beach for a barbeque with his family πŸ™‚ Among the poets you mention, John Donne is one of my favourites. I also love Coleridge. My more modern favourites are Housman and Hughes. Subject matter and the changing English language mean that poetry is both of it’s time and timeless!

    • Now I really am laughing, Martin I didn’t know that perch was a fresh water fish, but you’re right, someone must have left one at the beach as part of their lunch. I obviously didn’t do any research as I wrote the poem. LOL!

      I do love Donne, as well. I don’t know Coleridge nearly as well, but Housman and Hughes, I do agree! Your comment about the changing English language is so true. Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, Martin. And for setting me straight on perch!

      • Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner is a classic and its tale of doom and omens crops up so often in daily life. I think a lot of people in the present who write popular music, would have been poets in Donne’s time and we need to be aware of how their words resonate. You mentioned Dylan as a musician/poet – I think of people like Peter Hammill. And I’m sure there are many others that in a future time will be accorded poet status alongside their current musicianship πŸ™‚

  12. I love this little peek into 12th grade Debra! I’ve known the ocean was a very special place for you, but I didn’t know how far back it went. Now I know the same about writing! It’s who you’ve always been. I love that you’ve kept this piece and shared it.

    • Thank you, my friend. My family always went to the beach when I was little, but my fondest memories as a child were vacationing with my grandparents at the beach. Those were blissful times and I think I have jumbled time with them and time with ocean in my memories, and it is my happy place! πŸ™‚

  13. Dear Debra, in the small liberal arts college I attended, a course in metaphysical poetry would have been upper level! But the prose poem you wrote as a high school senior reveals in you a deeper appreciation of nature and a much better vocabulary than I had at that age.

    Like you, I adored poetry and had copied in a journal the poems that most spoke to me. I started that in junior high and continued through college. Somehow the journal disappeared and when I returned home from the convent, it was gone. Yet I still remember some of the poems that most spoke to me.

    I remember that time was a favorite topic for me. Just as it seems to be for you. Time and the change it wrought. Even in high school, my f favorite poem was “After great pain a formal feeling comes . . .” by Emily Dickinson–surely that is about time and change and every time I read it–then and now–I found validation for my own experiences. Hope all is well. Peace.

    • So lovely to hear from you, Dee. Especially when I was younger, I think that poetry felt a safe way to express myself and I wish I had some of my old journals to read through now. It’s a sad thing to look back and remember that I was so self-conscious that I didn’t want them to be read by anyone else, and to be safe, I destroyed them. Ouch! I think it’s wonderful to learn that we share this love of poetry. I must say that I’m not surprised! πŸ™‚

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