This blog post was published almost 10 years ago. It is a reprint of a column that appeared in the Providence Sunday Journal on Sept. 14, 2008, by Tom Chandler, former state poet laureate for Rhode Island and a professor at Bryant University.
The newspaper no longer runs the poetry column. I no longer live in Rhode Island. But I still like the memory in the poem. And I am still dorky. 🙂
Childhood is an endless wellspring
All poets face the blank computer screen with exactly the same thought: If the next poem could be about anything, what shall it be about? After all, the imagination is a wide highway, with exit ramps leading to sparks of ideas and dead ends in pretty much equal abundance. In my poetry writing classes I am regularly asked by students for topic ideas. I politely refuse such requests, since coming up with a compelling topic is really the heavy lifting of the art, its most difficult task. However, I do try to steer them in the direction of their own lives, explaining that their experiences as unique individuals are a never-ending source, both rich and fragile, and that looking back into childhood’s mirror will almost always provide the necessary prompt.
Julia Meylor Simpson grew up on a farm in Iowa, one of seven children. A few years ago her sister sent her a photo taken on her 10th birthday, a joking way of reminding her of her dorky past. Naturally, the picture triggered memories, and Julia found herself suddenly reliving that single day, lost among the thousands since. As she puts it:
“It was easy to crawl back inside the frame and remember when a two-digit birthday was something significant to look forward to for weeks. I’m sure my parents felt the hardships of that life every day, but they gave us all they could. And for me, looking back, that meant a rich, imaginative world where anything could be something else. The idea that an old pig house could ever be used as a playhouse is almost unthinkable in today’s plastic-wrapped, antibacterial-gelled world. But my father moved it close to my mother’s garden, and it was perfect — three child-sized doors and screened windows. Actually, the barn, the corn crib, even the grove of trees that shielded the house from the northern winds were magical places, each with its own smells and fears and stories.”
Julia has worked as a reporter and editor on a daily newspaper in New Jersey, and was an English teacher at Seekonk High School for 12 years. She works now in corporate communications, handling a variety of writing projects for Amica Insurance in Lincoln. Her poems have appeared in English Journal, South Dakota Review, and Connecticut River Review, among others. She is also a member of the Rhode Island Writers’ Circle, and has published her work in its annual anthologies.
Found a Photo from Forty Years Ago
A girl stands outside in patchy snow.
Bird-bone arms pinned to sides,
hair whacked short, Coke-bottle glasses.
Today’s her birthday.
There will be angel food cake
speckled with colors,
ten candles sinking in buttercream icing.
an exposed oak tree scratches blackboard sky,
a pig shed serves as a playhouse,
a mile of frozen earth borders a ditch
and two-lane blacktop.
The birthday girl smirks: Ten, one-zero.
She is a wizard in training,
charming endless acres of constancy
into forest, castle, jungle,
offering to the gods, a great journey.
Ten! Ten! Ten!
She thinks her adventure’s just begun.
She skips into the farmhouse,
neglecting a slipper,
trailing a few magic beans.