My relationship with poetry is a tale of a strange and odd journey. As long as I can remember, rhymes have lived inside of me and fought their way to get out. For many years, however, they only “got out” through my words; I did not put them down in writing; they grew inside of me and I either shared them in speech or just let them fester there with my other odd thoughts. Even now, some of my early childhood poems still rattle around in my brain. The oldest one that I can remember is a song I made up in the first or second grade, “Help Me Now, Help Me Later, I’m Being Followed by an Alligator”; I will spare you the rest of the song that is still inside, in its entirety.
As I grew a little bit older, my rhyming thoughts started to take the shape of poetry and, every now and then, in my own private world, I would dare to actually write them down on paper. One problem that I had was the struggle with the perception of poetry and poets – in my mind anyway. I was a boy. Although I lacked physical ability, I loved to participate in sports. I played baseball, football, basketball and any other sport/game I could get into. What I lacked in athleticism and skills, I made up for in tenacity and hustle. I was never very good, but I always gave it my best effort. I tried hard to be an athlete, to be good in sports, to be … well, a real man. Poetry did not exactly fit into that persona. Or, at least, that’s what I thought. So, my poetic side was hidden deep inside.
Once, in the eighth grade, I let my poetic side out for a school project. We had to do a report on the Presidents of the United States. For the cover page of my report, I wrote a poem that included the names, in order of their presidencies, of every President up to that date (please, no jokes about how few there were back then!). When I got my report back, the teacher had deducted points for me not including the name of the poet or a reference to where I found the poem. When I approached the teacher to tell him that I wrote the poem, he got angry at me for lying, introduced me to the word “plagiarism” and said I couldn’t possibly have written that poem myself. I didn’t argue the point any further. Whereas, on the one hand, it was a compliment that he thought the poem was too good to have come from me, on the other hand, it just drove me deeper into the poetry closet.
Then, in high school, during a math class, I was writing a poem at my desk instead of doing my math assignment. Unbeknownst to me, the teacher, a nun, snuck up behind me and grabbed my poem. She announced to the entire class that instead of doing math, I was writing poems – everyone laughed at and mocked me. Later, to my friends, I lied about it being an assignment for my next period, English class, but it didn’t salvage my embarrassment. In one way, I got lucky, this time. I was sixteen years old and a lot of my poetry was experimentation with the vulgarity I was learning and the sex I had heard about. The poem that Sister Regina grabbed from me was a tamed one. Had I been writing one of those other poems it would have been much more than just embarrassment I would have suffered. Either way, deeper into the closet I went.
As I got yet a little bit older and started learning to play the guitar, my poetry took the form of song lyrics, but, were still kept to myself. Then, life got into the way. I had my first kid one month after my 21st birthday. Jobs; more kids; divorce; custody battles; a second wife; and on and on. I still wrote poems, at times, some of which I typed and saved, but none of which I ever shared with anyone. Collections of my poems would be lost, misplaced or thrown out during the various moves I made along the way. Some of them were permanently stored in my head, but many of them were lost for good.
I still felt that the poet side of me did not mesh with the outside world’s view of me, so, the poet remained in the closet. It is sad to say, but, I think that I was almost embarrassed by the fact that I wrote poetry. Embarrassed enough not to share it, but not embarrassed enough to stop writing it.
Then, as technology evolved, my poems were able to be stored on electronic media and they became easier to save. And, at the ripe old age of fifty, I finally got the courage to say, “Fuck it, I am a poet and I don’t care what others think. I am coming out of the closet and sharing my words. Have at it. Laugh at me; mock me; tell me I suck; whatever – here I am and here, too, is my poetry.”
As horrifying as my fears were that people would think less of me; that people wouldn’t understand this side of me; that my masculinity would be challenged; or, that people would just think my poems are downright awful; the reality of what happened was even worse – nobody gave a shit!
I came bursting out of the poetry closet; exposed my bare soul to the world and the world just ignored me. Friends, family, acquaintances … nothing. I posted on social media, created poetry sites and begged people to read my poems. Silence. Nothing. My fear of being exposed as a poet and all the negative connotations that come with it was not warranted. Nobody cared.
Ironically enough, the one person in my life that I just knew would have no interest in my poetry; that one person that I was so sure would not understand this side of me, became one of the few people who did seem to care; my father. That macho, ex-marine, manly man, who I am not sure ever read a poem before in his life, loved my poems. My father would comment on almost every poem wrote. He would call and tell me that he was angry because my poem just made him cry; or, that I made him laugh; or, one poem made him look at something in a different way. My father! Are you kidding me? My father? Well, that made it all worth the while.
Then, two years later, my father passed. My biggest fan moved on.
I still write my poems. I still post them on social media and even just started this blog to post them. I still get very few eyes to read them, fewer still, people moved to post comments about them. But, hey, here they are. I am out of the closet, but I am still the same guy. I still have life to deal with and I still want to be that athlete I always hoped to be. Some dreams, I guess, never die.