I've been writing poems since I was 14 years old. At least, those are the earliest poems I've saved, or that I know anything about. It seems to me sometimes that I must have started earlier than that though. Looking though old papers a few years ago, I found a stack of poems given to me by my 4th grade teacher--her own--that I remember her sharing with me during recess. There was one particularly fine line about a rabbit's having been run over by a train, "escaping on iron wheels into the Kansas blackness." I remember imagining that darkness more black somehow than ours, out on the Oregon coast. What kind of teacher shares her own verse with a 4th-grader, or, better yet, what kind of 4th grader volunteers to stay in from recess to discuss poetry with his teacher? This guy.
In high school, I wrote all kinds of poems. Usually, they were rhymed and formal, Keastian and melodramatic, obviously, but still interested in the sounds of words at least as much as in my touchy feelings. I wrote poems in pencil on my desktops because I wanted them to exist only in time and not in space: to have worked hard at something and not to preserve it, not to find it precious. I wrote poems with a friend, a version of the exquisite corpse done through note passing to opposite sides of the class.
In college, my freshman year RA recommended I take a Creative Writing class with Jill Peleaz Baugaertner. So I kept an eye on the schedule, but none were offered that year, nor the next. Flummoxed, I stopped by her office and asked "what gives? How am I supposed to learn to be a poet if you don't offer this important class?" She said she loved teaching that class but that enrollment needed to be met.
"Well, I'll take it, and I bet I can get 3 friends to take it too. Let's just offer it and see what happens."
Bless her, she agreed and the class filled right up.
After graduation, I headed to Flagstaff, AZ, mostly to hang around with my brother, who I'd missed while in college. Once there, I started to miss the life of the mind and so enrolled in the Creative Writing MA at Northern Arizona where I studied under Barbara Anderson and Jim Simmerman. Sitting in the Flagstaff library one day, I sent an email to Richard Kenney (whose book I had just picked up on a nearby shelf) from the University of Washington. I want in, it said, basically.
"Well, it's a competative program, he said, "but here's what I'll do. If you send me some poems, I'll read them."
My advisors at NAU said outright that they'd never placed anyone at UW and that I was aiming a bit high. "That's like a top ten program," they warned.
Next thing I knew I was headed to Seattle to join to cohort in the MFA program taught by Heather McHugh, Linda Bierds, and Richard Kenney, who, under the auspices of the Rome trip, became a close mentor.
I started publishing individual poems right after college, but I've never been very good at submissions. First it was all the stamps, now it's recombining individual poem files into selections and uploading them through e-portals. That, and keeping track of where I've sent them and which ones I have out. But I'm trying to make a commitment to share more this year. I feel like all this work (my hardrive is full of casual essays, recollections, book ideas, and of course poems) is choking me. I need to get it out into the air so I can make some more things.
To that end, I've put together a collection of poems. I've got enough for two books at least, but I've thinned it down to what I believe are my strongest pieces. None of the ones from college survived, and only one, I think, from Flagstaff. Six or so are new this year. I've had hordes of ideas for clever organizational schemes, including one based on Galileo's names for lunar regions, which have great titles like "Lake of Hatred" and "Sea of the Unknown," but I've dropped them all here and just tried to link one poem to the next based on shared imagery or some other evolution. It's just a gathering and I'm getting ready to send it out to publishers this summer. It's called Hail, and I can't wait for you to see it.