Nobody, not even the rain has such small hands (e. e. cummings, from “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, Gladly Beyond”), that was the line that gave birth to me as a poet. But there were other elements along the way. First, when I was a young child, first given to talk, my father and I would play word games. We’d rhyme, spell words in fanciful ways, try to talk like college professors (my father didn’t go to college, and I hadn’t started kindergarten yet, so I didn’t know anything about teachers, college or otherwise), read books and make up different texts (rewriting Dr. Seuss was our favorite), try to speak only in poetry (this drove my Estonian mother, a survivor of the Holocaust, nuts: “why you do that?!”), and told jokes, asked riddles. My favorite, for pure existential joy was (of which, like all the existentialists, we were the ultimate judges), what’s big and red and eats rocks? A big red rock eater! To this day, I still ponder and laugh: is the rock big and red; or is the rock eater big and red . . . ?
We studied poetry of a more elevated kind in school, which seemed to take out all the joy of poetry. Blake, Wordsworth, Ben Jonson, John Donne, Keats, etc. The one exception was Christopher Smart’s “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.” A lover of cats (we had seventeen at one point), and a lover of Smart’s way of “considering.”
So when I hit e.e.cummings, I was primed and ready. And my high school English teacher, the late Kay Kasberger, recognized it and took me in hand. She said: get a notebook, start writing, don’t censor yourself, and let me look at them from time to time. So I did and she did. And how smart, and what a good mentor she was. She looked at my 4-6 line poems, and didn’t critique them the usual way (this doesn’t work; your rhythm is off, etc.), rather, she would put red asterisks by all the parts she liked, along with a one or two word comment: love rhythm; evocative image; nice line-break; etc. By the time I started college at SUNY Potsdam as a double major in music composition and philosophy, I was head over heels a poet. But through my post-high school studies, I took no courses in literature or writing.
I earned two M.M. degrees, one in music composition and music history at Bowling Green State University, but I was finding that my heart wasn’t in composition the way a born composer was. I enjoyed composition, but really all I wanted to do was write. And my music history thesis was more about music as language, as poetry than it was about music. Fortunately, I had an understanding and poet-sensitive thesis advisor, and she approved, and then officially signed off on the completed document. And when the next step should have been a Ph.D in musicology, I fell into depression.
But even here, my advisor (who also mentored my writing), found a doctoral program in the interdisciplinary arts at Ohio University. And it asked the kinds of questions I was asking in my music history thesis, but applying to all the arts, visual, musical, architectural, and written. It was both deep (can the elements of a cathedral reveal the theology of the religion housed there?) and wide ranging: a painting or a building can be symmetrical; can we talk about symmetry in music or a short story? It was pure heaven. I took the courses, wrote my dissertation on the conception and expression of monumentalism in the British architecture and theater of the seventeenth century.
Still, I was writing more and more poetry. I finished graduate school, taught college music theory, and then landed my dream job, where I finished out my working life, at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. It was a residential college specifically for scientifically and mathematically gifted 12-18 year olds. But because the school didn’t want to graduate students who knew about, or could only do one thing, they were expected to take courses in the arts and humanities,
AND I WAS AN INTERDISCIPLINARY ENGLISH TEACHER! And yea, verily, ‘twas great. I taught there until I retired.
I was very fortunate in my job to have a poet on staff, and a staff member whose husband was a short story writer. I learned a great deal from them. And then I delved deeply, reading and writing, my way into a life as a poet. I also connected with the writers’ community here in north-central Illinois. And now I’m a regular in the poetry world, and am reading publically, and publishing regularly. I have self-published three books: BLOOD AND BONE, RIVER AND STONE (a second edition just out), SIGHTINGS: VISIONS OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT; and my most recent, NIGHT TRAVELS. I am currently working on a book of poetry about the Holocaust and related matters. I hope to finish the manuscript by the end of this calendar year.
I also have published widely, and continue to do so, in journals from around the country and Canada.
I have also published some short fiction, just reading a lot, and then doing what seems intuitively right. In 2016, I got Editor’s Choice for my short story, WADE, in Inscape Literary Review. And lately, I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of publishing: eleven poems in ten days. One of the journals, took almost everything I’d submitted, and then asked for more for the same issue.
But I’ll end the bragging right there. I do, however, want also to give credit for the role of the music of the early seventies, specifically, the lyrics of Paul Simon, and Leonard Cohen.