Sunday, January 4, 2015

It's All Gary Cooper's Fault

I speak of Gary Cooper the poet, not the actor. It was his scrawl I found in the back of a journal I had kept as a class requirement back in 1981, which served as one of my motivations to return to school. The journal was a requirement of my Intro to Poetry course at Black Hills State College in Spearfish S.D.  I was 22, married and the mother of a newborn and a 14 month old.

I have never been a typical student.

Each day we were to write in this journal, anything at all, whatever we wanted, but we had to write; his purpose I assume was dedication to the craft. At the end of the semester after reading my whines about struggling to study while nursing one babe and keeping track of another, about working part time while being in school full time, about pure claptrap drivel related to meals cooked, judgmental in-laws, imperfect parents (my own) Mr. Cooper wrote the following in my journal:

He planted the seed that has sprouted, been stepped up, sprouted again, allowed to shrivel up and nearly die and then finally this past year, was resurrected. It proves once again the power of the written word. I've recently tried finding him online, to let him know that his efforts did indeed impact one of his students, but so far no luck.

I used to attend his class with a tiny (not really, he weighed over 10 pounds at birth) infant snoozing in a carrier parked next to my desk. I would nurse this child in my car, putting him to sleep, carry him inside and attend class. This oldest son of mine, child number two, was content to drowse and occasionally gurgle through readings of Dylan Thomas, Plath, Frost, and Yeats. Now at 33 this child is the most reflective of my four and the deepest in thought at times. But what can I expect? While other parents of the 80's were  exposing their wee babes to Sesame Street, mine literally listened to the soul wrenching work of Sylvia Plath as he drifted in and out of his breast milk coma.

No, he is not a poet now, instead he works in the financially secure world of electrical technician, but I did not recognize my own affinity for this art form until well into my 50's so perhaps his love for the genre will reemerge later down the road as well. Or not. Still, I am convinced that we are not born poets. We do not attend one class, read one book, or take a national poetry license exam to be deemed "POET."

Rather I believe it is a process and forgive if I throw in the overused sentimental term of "journey," but it applies. Two women in my family, my grandmother Josephine Conklin O'Shaughnessy and her mother Mary Ann Kirwan Conklin, were published poets so it might be argued that genetically I am predisposed to prose. Hmmm...Predisposed to Prose...Now that would make a cool t-shirt. Anyway, although I always enjoyed reading it, I only wrote  a smattering of poems in my teens and twenties, virtually none in my thirties and forties (too busy writing nursing policies, yawn) but now have jumped back in head and pen first in my fifties.

The timing is just right I suppose. I returned to school this past fall, taking my second intro to poetry class with a keen instructor and fellow classmate poets, and then a few weeks ago a cousin of mine sent me an amazing gift: the two original poetry books of my grandmother and great grandmother. One written in the 1950's and the other little blue one, in 1884.  Coincidence? Probably, but I plan to run with it anyway.

I'll focus on both those books later and give them the attention they deserve., but in the meantime; tell me about the poetry that moves you or doesn't and why you write it or don't. And if know Gary Cooper from BHSU,  tell him I said hello and thank you.


  1. oh wow, there definitely is poetry (or prose) in your bones Donna.
    I don't tend to read that much poetry. I read quite quickly and poetry needs to be absorbed and read slowly. I did treat myself to a poetry collection by Angela T Carr this Christmas and am reading it a poem at a time :)
    I do love those Irish favourites such as Seamus Heaney though.

    1. You are right Lorna about needing to take more time to read poetry as I do tend to rush from one event, one book, one chore to another. I often have to MAKE myself sit with a poem of books (and a pot of Barrys or do you prefer Lyons?) and just enjoy what I am reading. It is a guilty pleasure for me.