Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

In spring 1983 I enrolled in a poetry writing course thinking it might help improve my short fiction. I was a history major by default, had never taken a course in poetry, but believed, with absolutely no evidence, that I could write fiction. At the time I would have been hard-pressed to name five contemporary poets, even counting my professor. To be honest, the class struggled to hold my attention. Only about a quarter of the students seemed interested in writing, and the instructor was a bit, uh, tired. But for the first time in my life I read, really read, poetry. I fell in love with Galway Kinnell, Ai, James Wright and Carolyn Forche, to name just a few of my early enthusiasms. I wanted to write like them. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Most of it was laughably bad, but somehow I managed to win an undergraduate poetry contest, which suggested that hope existed. Maybe someday, I thought, one of my poems will be published. This radical idea had never occurred to me before. Publication seemed to be the privilege of special people, and a lifetime of gathered fact revealed that I was unequivocably nothing special.

Early on in the semester, perhaps even in the first class, the professor asked how many of us thought we’d still be writing poetry in twenty years. I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t know where I’d be in six months, much less what I’d be doing in twenty years. Since I’d realized late in the game that teaching was not for me, I had no job prospects, and few marketable skills, despite experience in chugging beer, manning sound-powered phones on a ship’s helicopter tower, scraping barnacles and bending rules. The world was limited. The world was limitless.

Another gray day

dividing the old and young

Oh, this aching hip!

A song from that time:

86 thoughts on “Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

  1. I would have raised my hand, if not too introspective. But as it happened I soon ceased, for maybe most of three decades. And then, through the vehicles of wishing to write essays, just within the past year or so, it has awakened again in me. For some thoughts cannot fit within rhetorical language, I’ve noticed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Who could have guessed? Who would have known? And yet, life offers and delivers the unexpected daily – and more’s the wonder for it. And bonus – for you and us – we get to read and enjoy – you create (for many more years to come we hope) and we stretch our wings and fly. And scratch the itch – thank the stars for your being bitten!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You are such an inspiration, Sir Robert!

    Both my fiction writing professor and my major advisor in undergrad urged me not to include any of my poetry (euphemistically asserting that it “wasn’t ready”) in my writing samples for my applications to MFA programs. Needless to say, my thoroughly discouraged hand-raising resulted in my being rejected by every MFA program I applied to. However “not ready” those fledgling globs of barf I insisted on writing and calling poetry may have been, I was ready to learn, and yet was summarily denied the opportunity to do so in a setting purported to serve that very purpose…

    Anyhow, look at me now! When there’s a will (or a serious affliction, as the case may be), there’s a way!

    If only the same principle applied to our arthritic joints!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Loved this look back, Bob. I was in journalism grad school at the time, finding, like you, what turned out to be my calling. Lucky us. Also, what a beauty the young Annie Lennox was! I had forgotten how open and lovely her face, though I have never ceased appreciating her voice. So thanks for the video, as well, of a song that I also strongly associate with that time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting to hear that in your sample only about a quarter of the class was interested, perhaps even in writing poetry. Did you/do you have any idea why that might be?

    In my school years (somewhat longer ago) people in two undergraduate poetry writing courses I attended wanted to write poetry, but few wanted to read it. Class critique writing/participation was sparse, and few seemed to be into reading poetry or thinking about it. My working assumption was that they were in the classes for the self-expression, or out of some sense that the coursework wasn’t onerous.

    Glad you persisted anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This somehow makes me think of a line of yours, from “How to Write a Poem”, which has stuck with me: “Deny ambition.” I try to be forgiving of myself as a work in progress, and I’m glad that some of the endeavors I abandoned half a lifetime ago are things I can circle back to now and may actually be properly learned this time around. But that’s about the only thing I can recommend about getting older. Your hip and my eyes… ugh. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand — O at the Edges – RAY K'LO ARTS

  8. I picture a young Bob scraping barnacles to this tune 🙂

    I love this song, takes me back to being a kid listening to the radio in the car.

    This was a real pleasure to read, thanks, and I am glad you continued to write poetry.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I have just started a blog here on WordPress. I know nothing about blogging. I couldn’t even keep a diary going a kid. I started browsing posts really looking for help on how to add an about me page. But your title caught my attention. 35 years later, I raise my hand. Made me think about being in school. I was shy. In elementary I would raise my hand to answer questions, but by Jr. High and High School I didn’t want to raise my hand or answer questions even if I knew the answer. Then I saw the song. I liked that song as a lid. And it is raining right now, outside as I type this. 🙂 I hated writing assignments in school and helping my daughters with their writing assignments also. And now I want to do a blog. And someday I’d like to do a YouTube channel. If your going to dream, dream big. Sorry for Rambln on so. Good evening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting! I should probably review my About page, as I wrote it when I first started blogging and wasn’t sure what I was doing. 🙂 After four years, I’m still not sure what I’m doing, but I do it anyway…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Your name sounds Japanese. I write poetry myself but incorporate whatever poetry I write into my books as song lyrics (my books so far are about a rock band that eventually accepts Jesus Christ). I also like writing haikus forsome reason–
    “OmegaBooks is my
    way into the writing world.
    Hope you read them soon.”

    Ah soo desu nee… 😉

    Thanks for liking my post on why OmegaBooks is the home to the world’s most unique fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

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