Although there are short periods when I’m not writing much poetry, I don’t think it’s because of a lack of topics. For example, the other night I was up at 2am, not common for me but an occasional thing. I ended up writing a poem about Fred Allen, a humorist from the mid-20th Century who’s been all but forgotten in this digital age. If it weren’t for the reruns of What’s My Line on Youtube, via the Game Show Network, I’m never would have had the pleasure of seeing Fred’s spontaneous quips. He was a favorite pen pal of Groucho Marx, and for a time one of the biggest stars on radio. You might have trouble finding people under 40 who remember Groucho, much less Fred.
The poem, however, is a thinly veiled political dig. Hopefully that comes through. I’ve never labeled myself as a political poet, but in recent times, it has become a means by which I can express my concerns and suggestions in a creative manner. I try to get to the demonstrations when I can, but in the meantime, I still work my 35 hours a week. I still try to keep my home in decent shape. I get tired. But poems burst out here and there that I’d like to think contribute to the cause.
There are certainly still subjects I try to steer away from, much as I am an adamant advocate for the truth. Poetry in particular seems to be held to the highest standards, even when the story is clearly altered for the sake of telling a good story. Poetry of all the arts seems to be most often taken at face value. I even try to change the facts, if a poem is inspired by real life, in order to shape the rhythm and effect, but I am not very good at it. Perhaps that’s why I’ve finally been drawn to memoir in prose form these past few years. The poems are always rooted in fact, but with memoir, there’s no doubt.
It’s taken me thirty years to begin to tell the story of my early and ill-fated marriage, but there are still parts I’ll leave out. Truthful as I’d like to be, there are still those who don’t deserve to be involved, even as peripheral characters. Memoir is also terribly subjective. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pin down dates, creating a firm timeline to organize my episodes to. But to others who were there, it might not look like anything they saw. So, unless someone is crucial to the plot (because, after all, what good’s a memoir unless you’re telling it in the form of a ripping good yarn), they won’t be included.
Poems happen, and can be shared with particular audiences I can predict will be most receptive. I was surprised by the very positive reception the Fred Allen piece got this past weekend at a gathering in Arkville. But the memoir is a bigger project, intended for a broader audience (fingers crossed). The themes, plain and subtle, should be universal in appeal and timeless.