Although I actually write fiction, creative nonfiction, reference works and journalism as well as poetry, much of my work seems to somehow employ poetry as a kind of touchstone or launching pad. Therefore, I tend to be big on celebrating National Poetry Month, which starts on this very day, and and I therefore very happy to begin this three-part blog titled The Great Old Man Mystical Poet on the Mountain. For a more straightforward presentation of poetry, please check out Poets Everywhere and Always (remembering Federico Garcia Lorca)
Please Note: This is a true story but various names have been changed to avoid offending the parties in question.
I knew it was a bold move for me to quit my job as a bookstore manager three years ago to become a full-time writer and a caregiver for my mother, who, as it turned out, suffered not only from diabetes but a complex of illnesses that included diabetes, renal failure, congestive heart failure, and the more common agony of chronic arthritis. I reasoned, however, that leaving my job was the best way to simultaneously fulfill my family obligations while pursuing my goal to earn my living as a writer.
It never occurred to me that during my years of occasionally publishing a poem or story and sometimes participating in open mics throughout Savannah that I had built among younger writers a reputation I knew nothing about. I considered myself a young man entering middle age who had been forced by challenging circumstances to evolve into a spiritually aware individual. Time spent in England and Alaska as a military journalist along with an early marriage (a six-year long common-law relationship back when such unions were respected as valid) that ended in separation had made me stand out from most aspiring writers in Savannah. It had made me as well more sensitive to differences between cultures and individuals. I was also set apart by my study of a variety of metaphysical disciplines: the teachings of the Essenes, Sufism, Native American Spirituality, numerology, and paranormal psychology. To sum up my own evolved literary and spiritual identity, I drew from a variety of my writings the symbol of a mythological Black Skylark, so I was stunned to learn that certain others saw me in a completely different light.
After leaving my full-time employment as a bookstore manager, I struggled for more than a year without any major sales of my work when I was offered a contract to co-write The Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance on Black America’s famed cultural awakening of the 1920s and 1930s. My lucky bolt of lightning struck twice as, two years later, while nearing the completion of the encyclopedia, I received another contract for The Wisdom of W. E. B. Du Bois, a shorter book on the phenomenal historian and sociologist. I then settled into a tight but manageable routine of literary productivity squeezed in between my duties as a caregiver. Although I remained at home working quietly out of the public eye, a few stories about my work in the local press made me a minor public figure.
I was juggling proofreading for one book and research for the other when I received a call on a Monday from a leading member of the young spoken word artists in town. Identifying himself by the heroic name of "Renovation," he informed me that he represented a group called the Slickfire Poets and asked if I would be available to judge their poetry contest at 11 p.m. on Saturday night at a chic downtown hang-out called the Metropole Cafe. As honored as I was that he had asked, I had to answer no because of my tight schedule and offered to provide a substitute. Mr. Renovation said a substitute would not do because in Savannah, "We consider you as the Great Old Man Mystical Poet Living On His Mountain and it’s so rare that you come down from the top that we were hoping, we were really really hoping, you would step down this one time and judge our competition."
Wow. An odd ringing shot through my ears and I tried to understand what he had just said.
"Did you just call me the old man on a damn mountain?! Really? I mean–Really?!"
From The American Poet Who Went Home Again
CONTINUES WITH PART 2