April 12, 2022

Where do poems come from? by Jeffrey Round

Where do poems come from? by Jeffrey Round

Where do poems come from? After having written nearly two hundred, I still don’t know. I wrote my first poem when I was ten. It won Honourable Mention in a poetry contest at Princess Anne Public School in Windsor ON. It feels like I’ve been writing poems all my life.

My previous collection, In the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci, was an attempt at discovering an underlying unity to life in all its facets—scientific, psychological, political, artistic, and more. But in Threads I was searching for something more personal, a private kind of truth. In that sense, it comes closest to the “real” me, though that in itself requires a caveat.

Some of the poems in this collection were written nearly three decades ago, during the darkness of the AIDS pandemic. Reading them now, I see they were inspired partly by fear, for myself and others. They were also inspired by a kind of fascination for what the human body is capable of at its most terrifying and self-destructive. I recognize the impulses, but I am not that person now.

Here, portraits of friends are composites of many people I’ve known, while stories that actually “took place” converge on things that never did. This is life as seen through a glass darkly, and sometimes humorously, as I weave a tapestry out of these threads and invite you to consider what is factually true and what is truth in a different sense.

“Come close,” they say. “I have a story to tell. It may be about you.”

There is a truth in all stories, like the one about the boy who climbed the beanstock and was never seen again, or the girl who stuck her finger in a crack in a wall and saved a village, or the teenager who wanted to kill him/her/themself but didn’t. We compare, we listen: Come tell me yours. I’ll tell you mine.

I have no idea when my threads became Threads, just that they were always there in one form or another. Sometimes they write themselves, over and over again, as with my obsession for actor James Dean, which has sent me from his birthplace in Indiana to his crash site in California, and all the way back to his tiny apartment off Central Park in New York City where he once dreamed of greatness.

We’re all looking for threads, the things that hold and bind us together. Who am I? Who would I like to be? Even this essay is the result of a search for something. It came from a dream I had the night before I scheduled time to sit down and write a blog: Please come to my poetry launch, etc. While preparing for one guest, a different one arrives unexpectedly. What do you do? Invite them in, of course. Poems are like that.

We tell stories to know who we are. More threads. If we are wise, we follow them to discover what is there. (I’m not always wise, though I’d like to be.) Sometimes they are just stories and sometimes they are much more. Like when I stop in the middle of a busy street and find myself transported by a voice I hear coming from far away.

“Listen,” it says. “I’ve got a story to tell you. It goes like this…”

AN ELEGY FOR JAMES DEAN

Your image fills the screen

big, larger than life

and luminous, distorted

by my mind’s eye, all

the discontent of you,

ragged, commanding

something more than

a mere boy, street urchin

with a fiery star at your heart

 

Sometimes in the evening

I pull the dagger from my side,

shore up the wound

and disguise the blood

to go looking for you

who bear my cross

though I never find you

or never recognize you

if I do

 

I am a sad scout

a hustler of lost dreams

exhuming you

as you flicker and fade

before my eyes

trailing after you

to Eden or Marfa

 

Like a child in a fairy tale

I follow the trail of crumbs,

clues to your existence

 

In my study at home

I keep a piece of bark

from a long-dead tree

whose boughs you once

climbed as a boy

a small rock from

your death star, the

site where you crashed

forever exploding

into light