This notebook contains a collection of poems written when I was ten, eleven, and twelve. Their existence gave me reassurance, since on the strength of having produced these works, I feel I can demonstrate that I am a writer, engaged with writing tasks as an ongoing practice. I can hold the poems in my hands. They are solid evidence. Even in their original form as individual sheets of paper, they amount to something more than aspiration. They reassure me about my ability to be continuously productive. The poems were written in the early 1960s. But this copy of them is its own act of recognition of their value to me and must have been made sometime around 1969, when I was still in high school and in Philadelphia. The manuscript is thus a record of the poems, and also of the act of careful preservation. This unique act of editorial production was meant as a summary, a milestone, at the moment when leaving home for college was imminent and my assessment of self was in part based on the power of this collection to testify to the child-writer's capacities. I had a dramatic sense of the end of an era, terminus of my childhood, when I was doing this copying, wrapping a phase of my life into an era defined as a body of work.
The originals were written on school-lined notebook paper, probably loose-leaf sheets. But for this copy, I bought a notebook specifically for the project. The handwriting shows constraint and attention to the task at hand; the letters are carefully and clearly made, and the slight backhand slows the writing so that it remains clear. The unevennesses are notable, the slight wandering of the left margin, the differences in rendering of the word "Love" in the list of poems sequenced with that title. At least one of the poems was published in the school paper. But I have no sense of how to make my work public, or what that might mean. I know that poems exist in books, and that authors have reputations, but I only know how to use writing to capture time, turn it into product and form.
The poems in this notebook are filled with melancholy, Written just on the cusp of puberty, they are conspicuously threaded through with themes of longing, loss, and memory. One begins, “As I sit here by the fire, / as I sit here and I dream, / there comes to me a memory / of things I’ve done and seen.” Another, “The Panther,” ends: “The panther’s sad call / to a far off mate / the lonely sound / echoes far and wide.” Writing was about recuperation, the futile but essential attempt to hold onto the ephemerality of experience, of life’s swift passing.
Even in those years, I cannot imagine life except in terms of the pain of being, the fragility of experience, of an acute sadness that tinges everything. I know these works by heart, and and their existence becomes a protection against oblivion and obscurity. I can point to them, recite them. They exist in the world in a way that I do not, and so the evidence of writing takes on a protective force, serving as a guarantee of identity.
Though I like to imagine myself as a delicate poet, in actuality, I am a robust child, strong, with a
healthy will and ability to succeed in my school and social life. But my sense of distinction and
difference is an essential defense against the
threat of absorption and belonging and the equally strong fear of exclusion and rejection.
I believe that my exceptionalness,
demonstrated by my writing, is a guarantee against the judgment of others. Still, I keep the poems hidden,
most part, in order to preserve their power.