Investigating Life as a Poet
December 29, 2011
Given that my main persona is investigator—of historical and literary mysteries (see my "Did Shakespeare Write ‘Shakespeare'?" in the Nov./Dec. 2011 Skeptical Inquirer), as well as homicides, and, most extensively, of paranormal enigmas—relatively few know of me as a poet—in which role I investigate life and attempt to shape the results into art. As an undergraduate I won the 1967 Farquhar Award for poetry at the University of Kentucky. Having published widely in the "little magazines"—a protégé of Wendell Berry and "Beat" poet John Wieners—I was offered a scholarship as a special student in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. However, the Vietnam War then raging, I would have been drafted out of that graduate program, and instead I was deferred for a year as a VISTA community organizer and civil rights worker in rural Georgia. Then, opposed to the war, I lived in Canada for eight and a half years as a federal fugitive until pardoned by President Carter in 1977.
Meanwhile, as I developed my investigative and prose-writing skills, I gradually ceased to write poems and songs, until I came to suffer a quarter-century of writer's block in that regard. On learning of this on my return to UK for graduate studies, a beloved old professor, Michael Adelstein, remonstrated with me, insisting that I had no right to turn my back on my "gift." I told him I appreciated what he was saying but that "whatever I once had, I don't have it anymore," and he went away, sadly shaking his head.
Then in 2003 I learned I had a daughter, Cherie, I had not known about, and I needed to speak to her in a more profound way than I could do in the language of a letter. I reached again for the poetry, and found it there as surely as if it had never left—a stunning realization I am still somewhat mystified by.
In any case, I am now writing prolifically—numerous poems and several songs, often written to my wife/muse Diana (Cherie's mother and the love of my life, whom I married in 2006!). I am now a familiar figure on the Buffalo poetry scene, reading at Literary Café (sponsored by CFI and Just Buffalo), Hallwall's Contemporary Art Center, The Screening Room, and other venues.
I have a selection of poems in the fall 2011 issue of the poetry journal Beyond Bones, edited and published by esteemed poets Verneice Turner, Perry S. Nicholas, and Jennifer Campbell. (It includes writer-friends Christina Wos Donnelly, Ruth Thompson, and many other talented poets.)
Above is one of my selections, "Thoughtsmithing" (written, not surprisingly, at a time I was learning blacksmithing). I call my style improvisational rhyming—a basically free verse (and often imagistic) treatment that utilizes sound effects (including consonance, off-rhyme, etc.), orchestrated for lyrical or other effect. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
#1 Dave Cotter (Guest) on Friday December 30, 2011 at 9:42am
Yes, Joe, I remember with pleasure and pride reading some of your earliest poems in Toronto, way back when. I’ve left a few hellos on your FB page, which you may not have gotten. Would like to get in touch again. Am completing a novel I began many years ago and have had a few nibbles from agents. All’s well.