My dad told me a long time ago that one of the things he admires about me is that I always do things 30-degrees left or right of center. I’ve managed to find or create my own path, no matter how arduous or easy it may turn out to be… and more often than not, I come out just peachy in the end. Hell, what fun is life if you don’t get some dirt under your fingernails or find your way into the weeds every now and again along the way?
Choosing my thesis topic when I was getting ready to finish my MA in poetry at George Mason was the same way. I could’ve gone with a highly academic investigation/critique of some literary topic… something like:
Stop. What’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.
An exploration of the use of imagery, sound and cultural reference among the New York Avant-garde school of poets.
OK, so maybe I did actually write a paper with that title. But my thesis– the baby I was to birth as the culmination of my academic career, the printed and hard-bound proof of my time there– was a book-length poem about fishing, titled All Water.
52 sections. 60-some-odd pages. Modeled after Whitman’s Song of Myself. I wrote about the change in our American landscape–physical, spiritual, cultural, socioeconomical–through the eyes of a fisherman, father, husband and veteran. My research was stream-side and in books like Sand County Almanac, Founding Fish, Walden and My Secret Fishing Life; stories like Big Two-Hearted River and A River Runs Through It; the humor of Patrick McManus and Gordon MacQuarrie. I wrote while listening to The Dead, Paul Simon, Van Halen, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, Radiohead, The Stones, Zeppelin.
I wrote in first light and evening’s slow exhale. Before the kids woke up and after they gave in to the sandman. I wrote high on wine. I wrote depressed. I wrote and started to figure out who I am and my place in this shifting landscape that is America…and I’m still writing.
That said, I’ll be posting some excerpts from time to time. Just a heads-up.
Here’s the first:
Once I saw a gator snatch a deer by the head & drag it flailing into a small lake in Georgia.
We were fishing for bass in a boat along a weed-bed fifty yards from the explosion.
The deer was quietly sipping at the shore.
We left the water ringing with the noise-memory & blackbirds lighting out from the trees.
Ten years later blackbirds still remind me.
Even on this stream, their calls crash through sun-up or mid-day or dusk quiet & my hackles raise & I look to the water at my feet.
All the while, trout snatch mayflies from the surface around me, splashing, leaving ripples & small bubbles, noise-memory & blackbirds lighting out from the trees.