I was recently going through some of my old things when I came across a book of poems I wrote for my Nanny for Christmas 1976. I must have written at least 100 poems in my lifetime and most of those were written in my teens to early twenties. I felt a little odd reading these poems, some of which I had totally forgotten about. But not a bad odd–more like a pleasant, melancholy, nostalgic kind of odd.
One of the poems in the book was a poem that won first prize in a poetry contest. I was a junior in high school and my English teacher had suggested I enter some of my poems in the Walt Whitman Poetry Contest being held at Rutgers University. I had just finished a new poem and, of course, it was my favorite at the time. I don’t remember it’s title and unfortunately, it’s not in the book I did for my Nanny. But I do remember the first two lines:
The weeping willows, languid in their sight,
Are gloomy creatures stirred by fading light…
Anyway, it was all about a night in the bayou and I thought it was the best poem I ever wrote. So I wrote it down and sent it in. Then I wrote down about 10 more poems and I decided I would send one entry per day. The next day, I sent the second poem and I never sent in the rest.
Well, weeks went by and then my teacher said she had an announcement to make. My poem had won first prize in Rutger’s Annual Walt Whitman Poetry Contest. I was very excited. She asked me if I knew what poem had won. I told her yes and that I had it memorized. She asked me if I would read it for the class and I agreed. Of course, I read the poem about the night in the bayou. Everyone clapped and I even had people who barely spoke to me come up to me after the class to tell me how much they liked my poem.
The day finally came where I had to go to Rutger’s to accept my prize and read my poem. I was so excited as my mother drove me to the University. I remember being greeted by a man who vigorously shook my hand, telling me how much the judges liked my poem. I was so pleased as he handed me back the copy of my winning poem. The only problem was that it wasn’t the bayou poem. The winning poem was the second poem I entered. A random poem that, by nothing more than chance, happened to be the second poem on the pile of poems I planned to enter. I didn’t even remember sending it. It was a poem about war and death called “Explode!”
You can imagine how shocked I was. I thought my beautifully artistic poem about the bayou had won and instead the judges liked a very dark and gloomy poem about war, death, and losing your faith. I sat there listening to the runners up trying to figure out how they could possibly pick this poem as the big winner. When it was my turn, I walked up to the podium, placed my poem in front of me, and stared out at the audience. I took in a deep breath and then in a very deep and clear voice I started reading my poem. As I read, I looked out at the audience and every eye was on me. The judge who had handed me the poem was standing in the corner with the wild-eyed gleeful look on his face, like he was so excited to finally hear the poem’s author’s voice.
When I finished the last line, and the poem ends with the word “die”, you could hear a pin drop. Everyone was staring at me wide-eyed, half with their mouths agape. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get praise or get run out of the room on a rail. Then, all of a sudden, they started clapping. Over a thousand different feelings rushed over me from relief to surprise to giddy pride. It’s an event in my life that I had thought I would never forget, but somehow did until I came across that book I wrote for my Nanny. I know this post is getting long, but I must share the poem with you.
As the bombs fall towards the earth
Let the toy soldiers drum of death
For what it’s worth
For all it’s worth
While famine stretches boundaries wide
The bullets fly; the bombers glide
It’s what’s inside
You cannot hide
The stench of slaughter fills the air
As mothers weep a mournless despair
But no one cares
There’s no one there
A looking glass of shattered lives
Views the earth through blinded eyes
What really lies
Beyond the skies?
To those who know the horrors cry
They echo through a well run dry
Passing us by
With a heartless sigh
So we wait and watch for a hopeful cheer
But our hopes are lost in a single tear
Yet do not fear
There’s nothing waiting here