Countdown, #3: Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

My last five posts of 2018 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.



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:

27 thoughts on “Countdown, #3: Thirty-Five Years Later, I Raise My Hand

  1. My parallel to your belief that publication wasn’t necessarily the privilege of special people was the realization that everything I’d ever read had been written by someone who was alive at the time. That seems idiotically obvious, but it allowed me to take the risk myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ah Robert, I started a poem in 1970, then life and other delusions occurred. When I was 60 I finished that one, and began again. I spent 43 years writing research and speeches, then rediscovered words. If it’s there it never leaves, just goes undercover. Yes, if only we knew, but then all life is a poem, I think somehow, if we can recognize the message….

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is very encouraging, I started writing last year after college, well I still feel publication is for the ‘special breed’ that I struggle to become but I see hope somewhere now…

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I, too, caught the writing bug in college after taking a creative writing course. Unfortunately a couple of years later I put it away for three decades. Now five years into my second try, I’m glad I have it back.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This piece is a message of hope to young writers,I have been able to deduce enthusiasm,persistence and the power of reading and learning from great minds.Love this great poet. I want to write better like you and hope to get to raise my hand too

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Omg… Its so relateable… I started writing poetry after I hated poetry classes during graduation 2 years ago. I don’t still consider my poetry to be very good. I consider it jumbled up words but I believe that one day I’ll raise my hand too

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Hi Robert Okaji, I must commend your creativity and the evergreen words you bring up each time you publish on your blog. You made my 2018 incredible and I always look forward to your next publications. In the same light, I have received a good number of likes from you on my blogs as well. It really gladdens my heart each time I notice your likes and comments.
    More importantly, I have a forthcoming publication titled ‘Voices’ and I am in need of contributing poets on this one. I am hoping you will be interested in contributing to this effort. ‘Voices’ as titled is meant to discuss about the different visage of love – sweet love and sour love. In this publication, each contributing poets will come up with two poems; one perfect love story and the other, a sad love story.
    I was studying at your blog and I discover you have done so much on this subject matter, if given the permission I will go ahead to pick from the poems on your blog. I am hoping to have (15) fifteen contributing poets; among these poets are: Vinz, Ragazza Triste, Frank Solanki, Luna, Specsladeyes, Baffy Basics, Cubby, Shefali among others. Your contribution and support will be well acknowledged and preached.
    Thanks for your consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.
    Victor Eshameh-Giftedminds

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.