Putting Ourselves “Out There”

I’ve been reflecting on the fact that several commenters now have opened themselves to the public gaze in a very courageous way: you’ve posted your first attempts, or your first attempts in many years, at writing a poem, here for us to see.

In the spirit of reciprocity, I wanted to post my own first poem. I wrote this 22 years ago if my calculations are correct. I still remember the rush of joy, walking through the kitchen, at having that really poetic idea burgeoning in my mind – the surprise, the glad intensity of my need to sit down RIGHT NOW and finish it. To this day, it’s the only one of my poems that I can recite perfectly at a moment’s notice.

I know this isn’t exactly the same thing as you have all done. And to be perfectly honest it’s really my second poem. My first poem, attemped when I was 6 years old, brought with its composition a similar experience, but I was so disappointed in the result that I didn’t save it. (It was something about a pear tree and as I recall the rhymes were “three” and “me.”)

Here’s my ACTUAL first poem.

The NIGHT SKY is a black curtain – distant and dark.
It echoes the frog’s song, the neighbor dog’s bark.
It has tiny peep-holes to let starlight through,
but when morning comes and the day is all new
the curtain rolls back to let sunlight through,
reveal the world sparkling in gems of dew.

So there you have it. What we feel when we write a poem doesn’t necessarily shine brightly for everyone else to see, but the act of writing the poem is one of the most important acts we will ever perform.

Thank you all, so much, for sharing yourselves in this way!


  1. So, at an early age you knew about spondees! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) What I mean to say is, you knew about rhythms, but you
    were not restricted by a rigid pattern, as so many start-up poets are, and the rhymes are not forced. You understood also how other sound effects work–“frog’s song”– and how to transfer what you see into something readers (and you too) can enjoy again and again by calling up an apt word-image, e. g. “gems of dew,” I think you must be a natural.

    I couldn’t absorb any of this until much later (about the age of 28) when as an English teacher I was assigned to teach poetry to a small group of highly motivated students in an experimental, “innovative” program. Prior to that, I had followed the easy path of using song lyrics as poems, especially the songs that these young persons were familiar with and like. But the experimental group wanted more, so I taught myself the things I had slept through in my own student days. Then I taught these things to students who picked up on them right away. Soon I knew that I was in deep water, and barely treading. But it was a learning experience for all of us, and more so for me when Susan raised her hand and said pointedly, maybe a bit sarcastically, “Mr. Salsich, if you’re so smart, how come you don’t write poems? ”

    I was trapped. Pinned to the wall in front of 22 sets of expectant eyes. What to say? Fortunately I remembered that students appreciate and expect honest answers, so I simply said, “You are right, Susan. I should write. And I will, starting tonight.” I went home and, after playing with our two children, then grading papers and reviewing lesson plans, I stayed up late composing my first poem. it is called “Susan,” and it starts, “There you go again striding / tall into my unprepared mind… ” It felt easy and fun (I think I used as a model one of the poems we had been studying in class), and from then on I knew that it was a way to relate to others on a deep level without even talking directly to them. So I kept on trying to make those connections, somewhat in the way that Leah did in her grandmother poem (not the same style exactly, but the same impetus and result). I never showed my first poem to anyone, not even Susan. But I have been grateful to her ever since,.

    Whew! Where did that come from? Anyway, thanks for providing a format, opportunity, encouragement, excuse, stimulation–whatever is working at the time–for me & others to see deeply (through words) what we knew & felt, but perhaps too briefly or too vaguely. Ever since that classroom experience with Susan, I have treasured what I later learned was Wordsworth’s definition (well, maybe one of them) of poetry — “emotion recollected in tranquility.”


    • No, no, I was just imitating unconsciously the sort of thing I had read. The only thing that really impresses me, looking back, is that a ten-year old could carry a metaphor through consistently to the end of six lines. Other than that, nothing is there to remark upon. Not that I’m bothered by that. Imitation is the least painful and most comprehensive way to learn to do anything.

      I love the story about your first poem! I can see how important poetry has been to you.

      Poetry is many things, really. Wordsworth was fairly bombastic about defining and limiting the scope of poetry. He had insights, but they were not universal insights, and he unfortunately expressed them as universal insights. As far as I can tell he single-handedly stripped the English-writing world of beautiful language by inveighing immoderately against “poetic diction” in an insidious essay that is now taken as gospel by 92% of poets and nearly all critics.


      • ” . . . he single-handedly stripped the English-writing world of beautiful language by inveighing immoderately against “poetic diction” in an insidious essay that is now taken as gospel by 92% of poets and nearly all critics”

        . Even though retired and spending much of my time praying for and helping my grandchildren grow, I am still attending the school of the internet and loving it. Such a blessing to have the opportunity to keep on learning! I wouldn’t have agreed with you five years ago, but ever since being exposed to the Orthodox church’s focus on tradition I have finally become open to the possibility that high diction does not necessarily undermine the sincerity or originality of personal expressions.

        How much do I owe you – (both a question and a strong assertion)


        • I owe most of my learning to people I’ve encountered on the internet. Although our world is becoming increasingly tyrannical, the internet is a sub-world where freedom still has a chance. True, people use twitter, googleplus, Facebook, and blogging to repress free speech by emotionally bullying people with dissenting opinions, but there are always other places to go.


        • “…high diction does not necessarily undermine the sincerity or originality of personal expressions.”

          Well said. In fact, it’s just the opposite, it seems to me. Low diction is in a straight-jacket. There are so few forms of expression, and all of them are used automatically. High diction, done well, is the result of intense thought and evaluation of the effect of language. It is what happens when people are sincerely and authentically (originally) presenting a personal utterance of great power. There are endless ways possibilities waiting to be discovered or created in high diction, but there are only a few ways to say something in low – those ways which have been vetted by the lowest common denominator and become automatic to most people.

          Only because high diction is more demanding, you have more failures with it. No one can fail at low speech. But many fail at high diction. That may be part of the reason why people react against it. It’s easier to tell students, “No, don’t try that, it will turn out horrible,” rather than to say to them, “I see what you are trying to do, and it’s worth doing, but you aren’t doing it well yet. Let’s figure out why.”

          I see the same thing in child-rearing. If a child spills the milk, 95% of parents will say, “That’s it! From now on it’s back to the sippy cup with you!” instead of giving the child another cup of milk and watching over them to see what it is they are having trouble with that makes them spill.


        • I can see, too, why encountering the services and prayers of the Orthodox Church would help with this. Overwhelmingly, you see high diction done well. However, not all of the translations are perfect. Specifically, I loathe the impulse to use “thee” and “thou” automatically when addressing God, in the mistaken belief that these words are more respectful or poetic.


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