Corresponding Juvenilia: 1993-1995

Poems from 8th and 9th grade– because I think it’s interesting to see how what one reads affects what one writes. During these Junior High years I liked Emily Dickinson, and I numbered my poems, feeling that if the title revealed more about the content of the poem than the poem did within itself, that was a failure of the poem. Other pillars of my poetics were: 1. write what you know– knowing I was young and relatively inexperienced, but also knowing the value of keeping/recording my experiences before they were “mature,” I strove to write my world as it appeared to me. 2. Most of the poetry is narrative and has a clear arc, often with a traditional three-part strophe signature (even if the poem isn’t divided into strophes).

I wrote every day, often many poems a day, in Mead 1-subject notebooks. I also wrote in my journal almost every day, but more about boys than about poetry. Although I wrote a lot, and began sending out poems to contests and journals (I often placed in contests and was published in surprisingly many journals, for a child), I was a relatively rigid critic of my own work, and few of the poems I wrote made it into the word processor or got sent out. Still, I long for the way I must have felt then, that I could “just write” and choose later– when now, I feel like whenever I write, what I produce needs to be publishable. So I write very seldom. I still think most poets should be a lot harder on themselves with regard to sending out work that is actually not publishable (or shouldn’t be). This desire curtails my production even more.


Political Discussion

A Conservative
(a poor excuse to be mean)
is only afraid.

Could be a writer;
But when he describes, he
doesn’t think deeply.

Flowers in her hair;
and in a gun’s heartless aim
(he doesn’t see them).

Even when he sees
He can’t understand
Other people’s lives.

A Conservative
(a poor excuse to dismiss)
is afraid of change.

Funny thing about this poem is that the subject, a boy I had a crush on for many years and who I still know, is still like this. Well, so am I.  This is (obviously) a set of haiku. The rule (I’m not sure if this is a real rule or only one that I follow) for a good haiku is that the first and third lines can be read together without the middle line.

Nature’s Own

Albatross hunting
Glides over fearsome sea
his powerful beak
catches the tide’s provisions
the bird hides it stingily.

I’m not sure what this is. It’s something. There’s a metrical scheme. What is it?


Animosity is a Puffin

Animosity is a Puffin
with a flaming red beak he chews and tears
up seagrasses,
instinctively; were they not meant for his
salvation? He knows no other civilization,
no higher calibur of life
naturally he eats his fill, not bothering
to salvage a shred for
Rebirth; Renaissance
He hardly notices his own emotions
Not conceiving the charity of
Live and Let Live
Animosity is a Puffin.
When the land is dead and barren
he searches through cold, troubled waters
crying for company–
his rock-nest,
his ancient, neglected home is locked
and empty–
Can it be that he has only lost his way?
He awaits the end not having
understood the beginning
of the entire vicious circle–
Animosity is a Puffin.

This poem was based on a writing experiment that was something like, “x is a y” where x=some kind of emotion and y=some kind of animal. I always thought both the experiment and the results were kind of bullshit, especially with this poem, because puffins are cute. That said, it won some prize or another, because the “x is a y” thing was a popular form in the Birmingham youth poetry circuit at the time. The original has some non-left-aligned formatting on some of the lines, but I’m too lazy to reproduce that here. I still think, in my Laura Riding way, that this poem is kinda bullshit because puffins don’t seem very evil. An albatross may have been a better choice to pin “animosity” on. But even so, anthropomorphisation is boring. And finally….

On Red Mountain– October 8, 1994 (Birmingham, Alabama)

On Red Mountain
I walk along the road cut:
the air smells wet and dark–
of rain on the fallen leaves
the sky intoxicated with
thick winter fog…
Throughout this day
I’ve worried about a friend,
but now I am amid history
I crawl through the
boundary fence
to walk alone on the sharp rocks.

my fingers turn raspberry
with the powder of
scattered iron ore;
my bare feet are black
from the shale
and fossilized stones
and when I finally
stand still,
surrounded by
morning glories and golden rod,
I can visualize all
that happened long ago.

And the Mountain roars
with the hoarse cries
of hundreds of miners
and the clinks
of their picks
against the limestone
and conglomerate
And though I know
that it is only an illusion,
the smoke from a long-deserted furnace
again fills the air–
fills my lungs
my heart and mind.

On Red Mountain
I stand spread eagle,
my feet melted into the ground;
Here I can feel
the wind and
but beautifully purified

This poem is kind of my coming-of-age poem. Red Mountain is the dividing line between urban and suburban Birmingham, and I volunteered at Red Mountain Museum for much of my 7-12 grade life, so I spent a lot of time on the Mountain. Historically, Red Mountain is the division between the working poor (miners and steel factory workers) and the landed gentry, blacks and whites, urban death and suburban sprawl.  I was up there, wandering along the road cut (the Mountain is split by a highway and you used to be able to walk along the cut and see the sedimentary layers– this is no longer possible), thinking about a boy I liked (who ended up, sweetly and memorably, being my first kiss, at sunset on this road cut).

Formally, the poem the culminating moment of my entire Junior High poetics. I still think it’s a good poem, although there are things I would change if I edited it now. It won a bunch of awards, both locally and regionally, and was published in some magazine, probably the local The Imaginary Club which was a great, thoroughly conceived and edited little magazine full of ephemera and poetry from the local 7-12th grade populations. Again, “On Red Mountain” has some alignment formatting that’s not visible here but can be viewed, if you get really curious, in my juvenilia.


About Jessica Smith
This entry was posted in Childhood, juvenilia, poetics. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Corresponding Juvenilia: 1993-1995

  1. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    I’d enjoy an anthology of selected poems that start with an “X is a y” line. The one that comes first to my mind is the Robert Duncan poem, from his first book, that begins, “Beauty is a bright and terrible disk.”

    I wish I could remember other examples.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s