In 1994, after thirteen years working in and around the Pentagon, I moved my family to New Hampshire. We ended up renting a house in Chester--a sprawling, difficult to heat, white colonial that once belonged to the Vanderbilts of robber baron fame. We moved north, in part, out of desire to have one of us stay home with the children (2 and 7, at the time). My wife (at the time) was the first to find a job with benefits, so I became a "stay-at-home" Dad.
During that period (for which I will always be grateful), like many a soul in the midst of a career change, I decided to be a writer. At first, I tried to parlay my Washington experience into a novel along the lines of a Tom Clancy thriller—lots of acronyms, international intrigue and little character development. I was a complete failure. I found myself becoming more interested in paragraphs rather than chapters, and soon, deciding sentences were more fun than paragraphs. I ended up dwelling on the sound of words and the composition of lines. Poetry.
I'd written lots of poetry as a teenager—inspired by Simon & Garfunkel—but I had abandoned it during college in favor of tougher things like the military and national security policy studies. In 1996, sitting many a morning in a cold room watching the sun rise over the back fields (the only quiet time of the day) the desire to create little, powerful dioramas of the mind came back to me. I submitted a poem, "News" to the local library's poetry contest judged by the town's police chief. Out of two entries (a fact that I was, luckily, unaware of until much later), mine was judged the better. This set in train a series of events that directly led to my first book. The poem was put on display at the library where it was seen by the editor of the local college literary magazine, who contacted me to encourage that I submit it for publication. The president of the college noticed the poem in the magazine and invited me to read at the Fall Convocation which that year was honoring town-gown connections. Shortly after that first, nerve-wracked, public reading, I was asked to work part-time as the college's evening librarian.
It was around that time that my father read some of my poems and asked me why they didn’t rhyme. I responded with something like, "Dad, no one rhymes poetry anymore. That's all Hallmark card stuff!" But his comment irked me, since I really didn’t know what I was talking about. There was lots of time as evening librarian to peruse the college's collection of poetry books. The first one I came upon—again, good fortune—was An Introduction to Poetry by Goia and Kennedy. I started reading and quickly realized my ignorance was even more profound than I originally suspected. I set myself the task of learning meter and rhyme, reading all the library had on the subject, being led to books like Tim Steele's All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing. I found that I enjoyed writing formal poetry a great deal.
No one believes me, but it is true that I didn't read much of Robert Frost until I was a good ways into the process of teaching myself to write formal poetry. When I did get around to reading Frost's collected poems (and, quickly thereafter, everything I could get my hands on about him), it was like discovering another, kindred self. They spoke to me directly, not with their supposed nature-loving New England folksiness, but with their powerful sense of coming to grips with what it means to be a passing, momentarily conscious thing set down in an often indifferent universe. There was far more terror in his poems—and humor dictated by that terror—than most of his critics and readers seemed to be aware of. His poems operated at different levels (the first just being an understandable narrative and description of a place) and I wanted my poems to do the same. I hope they do.
Outside of "News" mentioned above, my first publication was "The Road Agent" in The Formalist (Summer, 1999). I've since published in many journals including Measure, First Things, The Dark Horse, Light, The Lyric, Iambs & Trochees, and Forbes. My poems have won a number of contests, most notably the 1996 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award. The poems excerpted in this issue of the Barefoot Muse are all from my first book of poems, Too Much Explanation Can Ruin a Man. This was published in 2005 by David Robert Books, and I am close to finishing a second volume, East Wind, Rain (Working Title), which I hope to have out by this time next year.
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