On Poetry (and a Poem, Too)

paterson-couple

Closing Credits

At the dinner table,
the brown one with the square floral tablecloth,
the dog sits at my feet, watching.
The pasta is badly cooked, with the cheap red sauce.
It’s so easy to make, you know.

Two weeks ago,
in Colorado Springs
or Los Angeles maybe,
you texted.
Later, laying on colorless hotel room bed sheets,
I played the song on repeat.
(I didn’t want to play it, I swear.)

The laptop speakers vibrated.
Tears in my eyelids spilled,
like heartbreak-sized waterfalls,
and dried on the skin of my cheeks.
She sang:
“I can’t erase it…
I just replay it…”
Over and over again.

In the best movies,
even the sad ones,
endings can be beautiful sometimes:
Bound by running time,
words on a screen
or notes in a song, fading,
like closing credits.

I still won’t look in the closet where you hung your dresses.


When I was in grammar school, I wrote a poem that was printed in a book of student poetry. It was probably one of those gimmick poetry books, the kind where you sent in a payment for the publisher to print the poem, and they accepted almost every poem that was submitted. I worked a plumbing job with my dad and used the money he paid me to buy the book. I read the poem while laying in my parent’s bed one morning. “Lost in a world of hate and confusion…” was one of the lines. It was a really, really bad poem.

Throughout high school and college, I was blessed with English professors who challenged me to read from our country’s great writers and poets. In 11th grade, Mr. Sweeney had our Honors English class give presentations on some of them. Mine was on the poet Robert Lowell (I was a little asshole then and probably didn’t read any of Lowell’s poems, just like I didn’t read The Old Man and the Sea, Winesburg, Ohio, The Grapes of Wrath, This Side of Paradise, and so many others, until years later). In his critique afterward, Mr. Sweeney told me I spoke with a “valley girl voice” and that my thick, black hair, swung over the left side of my face covering most of my forehead, made me look “like I was wearing a helmet.” I’m thankful he led me to great literature, but he was an asshole, too.

In my final year at William Paterson University, Dr. Hauser got a more interested version of me. He exposed me to more Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Frost, T.S. Eliot and I happily consumed it all. One of the poets I loved most was William Carlos Williams, who grew up a few miles away in Paterson and remains famous for his poem about the plums that you probably read in an English class before. Until this past week, the last time I thought about Williams was in Dr. Hauser’s class.

Last Tuesday, I watched the movie Paterson at Downtown West and it all came back. The movie focuses on a bus driver-poet and his life in the city with his artsy Persian wife, English bulldog, and the people who fill up his everyday routine. The bus driver-poet, played by Adam Driver, is very influenced by Williams (in a way, it reminded me of The End of the Tour about a writer and his relationship with David Foster Wallace). It was a beautiful movie that only lasted a week in Knoxville because “there were only like four people there the night it premiered,” the lady at the ticket counter told me Sunday night when I went back to watch Moonlight.

Most of this post has been a huge buildup to just say that poetry is hard, raw, and unsettling, in such a way that it’s impossible for me to walk away and be happy with any of the poetry I write. Since college, I’ve pretty much avoided poetry, sticking to sports, journalism, and short stories here and there. As I’ve explored fiction writing, I’ve begun experimenting with poetry again, too. The movie opened the door in a way to sharing those poems.

One of the things that makes poetry hard for me is that I’m not interested in poetry that doesn’t make sense to what I feel (or can feel). The movies, novels, art, and journalism I consume all touch me in some personal way; they mimic moments, conversations, images that I’ve to some extent experienced. There’s epic poetry out there that is beautiful, but I quickly lose interest in the fanciful stuff. I’m not knocking it at all, that’s just me.

So, inevitably, when I write poetry, it’s personal in an unsettling way. It’s not like short stories where I can hide behind so many words and scenes. And it’s scary to write this way because I worry what others might think of me:

Will you judge me because of the feelings I’ve taken from inside of me and put on a computer screen? Will you empathize with me? Will you be angry? Or pity me?

I do think it’s a beautiful thing when we can be real. Every work of art I say I love has that heavy dose of candor to it. Poetry is cathartic and therapeutic in that sense. And, I’m glad that Paterson and Williams have gotten me writing it again.

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