following poems are from the “Coffee? Pencils?” section of Bruce
Bennett’s new poetry manuscript that looks at writing and the writing
Drink lots and lots of coffee.
Like, gallons. Let it flow!
Then you might write like Balzac.
You might. You never know.
Or sharpen lots of pencils.
That worked for Hemingway.
Some ritual could do it.
It might work. Who can say?
And then there’s Dylan Thomas.
A boathouse filled his need.
He crumpled lots of paper,
but he wrote poems, indeed!
What’s that? This isn’t helpful?
You need some master plan?
You want some firm instruction?
I’ve done the best I can.
There is no simple answer.
At least, not one in sight—
except, just face that paper
or screen, and start to write.
I have seen you in time.
You had best keep away
since my fingers are dancing. You’d better not stay.
You are small and in danger. I don’t plan to halt
in the heat of composing. It won’t be my fault.
No, it won’t be my fault, though I mean you no harm,
so I’m telling you now as I sound this alarm
which I pray you will heed, and at once disappear:
You’re in imminent danger. You must not be here.
So please, don’t take refuge on some random key.
You can never be safe there. It’s not up to me.
When the words rush and tumble, and my fingers fly,
if you’re on the wrong letter, you’re just going to die!
And though, yes, I’ll be sorry, I swear I won’t quit
till my poem is done. Once I’m finished with it,
I may view your small corpse with a trace of dismay,
but I’ll make it my moral: Don’t get in my way!
Poetry is its own reward.
You’ve heard that said.
It possibly could lead to Fame.
When you are dead.
It’s hard work and it doesn’t pay.
I know, in spite
of this – which you do not believe –
you’ll go, and write.
I know, because I took that road
one day myself.
And look, I have a pile of books
high on that shelf.
Someday you may be just like me.
Ah, well, Godspeed.
But don’t think I will wish you well,
should you succeed.
I was mad. I made a joke.
T'was a slashing truth I spoke.
My friend was outraged; shook his head.
“You cannot make such jokes,” he said.
He told another friend, and they
told others. And there came a day
I’d lost the only friends I’d had.
A toxic joke had made them mad.
Well, screw’em! Who needs friends like that?
I speak now to my dog and cat,
Who listen, and are glad I tell
My jokes to them. I feed them well,
And they are happy and content.
Though unaware of what is meant,
They hear me out with great delight
As I tell jokes, both day and night!
If there were Poetry Oscars,
he knew just where he’d sit
and scowl at the glittering pageant,
not being a part of it.
He’d watch the Big Names beaming,
clutching their Golden Prize,
thanking their First Grade teachers
for early assessing their size.
He’d watch the parade of extras
exult in their minute of Fame
and gloat in the glowing spotlight
that shed luster on their name.
If there were Poetry Oscars,
he’d hunch in his nosebleed seat
and murmur small imprecations,
which he would repeat and repeat.
Yet he would not be discouraged
as he sat up high in the dark,
because he’d be sure as the dickens
that he still would make his mark.
Because he knew – somehow, someday –
his hour at last would arrive,
and that worshipful throngs would marvel
that it didn’t come while he was alive!
Thomas Hardy, Thomas Hardy,
Is it just that I am old,
And have learned that Fame is tardy,
Fate is cruel, and Life is cold?
Is it just that I am tired
Of a World that turns its back,
And if anything’s admired,
I’m too conscious of its lack?
Is it that I’ve been defeated
In my cherished youthful aim?
That my energy’s depleted?
That I feel I’ve lost the game?
Thomas Hardy, Thomas Hardy,
Stand beside me. Make me strong.
May your dour spirit guide me.
Please, persuade me I am wrong!
following four poems (and five sonnets) are from Bruce Bennett's current
poetry manuscript, Coming Back To Light.
I took a book of poems off the shelf—
my choice was Yeats—and I began to read.
I was a college freshman, by myself,
alone and lost, and desperately in need
of guidance. How does one become a poet?
What does one need to do? I didn’t know.
Was there a secret? Who or what would show it?
There wasn’t anywhere I wouldn’t go
to learn. And there, in silence, for an hour
I read and read. The answer had come clear.
One had to train oneself to get such power.
This was no accident. It all was here.
I’d do what was required. The die was cast.
I’d found what I was looking for, at last!
My Freshman year. We just had read Camus.
The question was: What if the world should end
tomorrow morning? How would we choose to spend
our final hours? What would each one do?
Some took it as a joke. I’d drink… I’d screw…
I’d kill that bastard who messed up my friend!....
Others would pray. One said he’d seek to mend
ties with his family. Silent, I knew
exactly how I’d pass that final night.
I’d take a pen, and go somewhere alone
where I could be completely on my own
and where, immersed in silence, I would write.
How long ago. How much has happened. How
little has changed. I’d say the same thing now.
I tendered him the poem I had submitted.
He read it quickly. Judgment too was quick.
“You have no sense of rhythm.” I’d committed
the error of creating. He was sick
of students thinking they could write like Masters,
those Greats he taught and hectored them to learn.
It was his mission to stave off disasters.
To be a poet one must duly earn
the right to don that Mantle. I slunk sullen
back to my room. I hid my poem away.
But in my heart I knew I was no felon;
knew he was wrong, yet didn’t know what to say.
A lifetime later I would tell him this:
“The young are young. There’s much that you might miss.”
I thought I had to leave to be a writer;
to go to some place “special” and be free.
I’d cut my ties. My burden would be lighter.
I’d live alone, and it would just be me,
devoted, spending every waking hour
pursuing – and accomplishing – my dream.
I knew that I would come into my power.
My confidence was boundless! It didn’t seem
like I could fail. Once there, in isolation,
I spent long hours reading in my room.
The poems didn’t come. I felt the slow damnation
of those imprisoned, shackled to their gloom.
I’d hear the bustle in the streets below,
and ask myself, Why would I want to go?
I’d ask myself, Why would I
want to go?
Just one more way to ask, Why am I here?
A question I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know
how I would ever make it through the year.
I did, though. I made friends. I took excursions.
I read a lot. I got myself in line.
I loved the City and its bright diversions.
By Spring that year my attitude was fine.
But writing stayed a bust. I was mistaken
to think I needed Exile, Somewhere Far,
The Myth of Other Writers. It has taken
my life till now to recognize: We are
somehow—however much we might be wrong—
en route to where we should be all along.