Sunday, May 15, 2005

Gifting a poem

I’ve written poems about people, to people, for people. But yesterday, I not only wrote a poem about, to, and for a person, I literally gave him the poem.

It all started when I read a column by W. Thomas Smith, Jr. in Military Week. Thomas wrote a beautiful tribute to Colonel David Hackworth who died last week. After reading the column, I visited various Net sites, including Colonel Hackworth’s, and came away impressed by a man who was truly a hero, who both praised his Army and objectively criticized it. I wrote Thomas to tell him how much I liked his tribute. And I told him he had inspired me to write a poem.

We exchanged a few more emails, and I decided to literally give my friend the poem—in other words, to give not only the poem but also the rights. He asked me what I planned to do with it. I told him that as long as I could include it in my next collection, the poem is his to do with as he pleases.

I’ve admired Thomas’s work for a long time. He’s written for so many magazines and newspapers, it would fill the page to list them all. He’s written acclaimed books on military themes. That goes to follow, because the author served in the military. His official bio at notes, “He served in the United States Marine Corps as an infantry leader, parachutist, and shipboard special-weapons security and counterterrorism instructor. Following his hitch in the Corps, he served on a para-military SWAT team in the nuclear industry.” As a correspondent, he has reported from battlefields in the Balkans and the Middle East, as well as from Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. His story-book career deserves a poem.

I met Thomas years ago at a writers’ conference where we were speaking. After the conference ended, we had drinks and stayed in touch. I felt immediate common ground because Thomas is one of the few people who do what I do: write for a living. He also is an adjunct at the University of South Carolina, his (and my) alma mater. He is a complex and learned man.

And because I’m Southern and deliberately politically incorrect, I will also say he is very attractive.

Tom is one of those men who is born to soldiering. My father-in-law is the same kind of man. I grew up with a strong sense of military service from the males in my own family, reaching back to the Revolutionary War. So I took great pleasure in offering a poem to these warriors by way of a poem that rests on Thomas's own biography.

They are one of the primary reasons I can write whatever I like today. And I am grateful.

Visit W. Thomas Smith, Jr., on the Net at:
Includes links to his writing sites and blog.

A digest of Thomas's writings and books.

Thomas's bio and weblog link
Click on the "Enter" icon. Link to his blog is at the bottom of the page.


Anonymous said...

Kay, thanks for sharing your story about Thomas Smith, or as I like to call him, Tom. My name is Chuck Walsh and Tom and I have become friends over the last year. He is helping me edit a fiction novel I've been working on for almost three years, and he has been invaluable teaching me how to write with flair, with style, andm most importantly, from the heart. Thanks for sharing with your readers your thoughts and feelings about Tom. By the way, I too am a USC grad. Go 'Cocks!

Sgt. Beth Zimmerman said...

"And because I’m Southern and deliberately politically incorrect, I will also say he is very attractive."

Ms. Day, I like you already. :)

On another note, great poem. It's also refreshing to read nice things about good people...especially when they happen to be Marines.

Thank you. :)

Danelle said...

Ms. Day,
What a wonderful tribute to my absolutely fabulous cousin, Tom Smith! What a doll he is, and we are all so proud of him... And, you are so right: HE IS HOT!!!
Thanks for singing his praises... He deserves them all...
Danelle in Atlanta

CBrailsford said...

I heard W. Thomas Smith speak at the Society of Professional Journalists conference in April and he is incredible!!!


Whitewing Dove said...

Ms. Day:
Nice poem but just remember, W. Thomas Smith, Jr. and his Daddy {{W. F. Buckley, Jr.}} and all the other National Review conservs are benifitting from this war.

Kay Day said...

Dear Visitors,

For Anonymous, thank you so much for visiting my pages. You couldn't have a better writer at your side, and I wish you the very best with your novel. And here's a toast to our upcoming season with great hopes!

For Sgt. Beth Zimmerman, thank you so much for your words. And triple thanks for the job you and your fellow Marines are doing. And yeppers, I am politically incorrect. Always will be.

For Danelle, heck, I'm proud of him and I'm not even kin to him. And yep, he's hot!

For C. Brailsford, Tom is the consummate professional. He's a very gifted writer, and his presentations are always done with finesse. Thank you for coming by and leaving remarks here.

For Whitewing Dove, thanks for coming by and remarking on my poem. Please visit anytime.

Anonymous said...

Very nice article Mrs. Kay. I've been a fan of Mr. Smith's since 911. He reports war from the heart and he's always looking out for the regular G.I. Joe and Jane.
Thank you.
A veteran, U.S. Navy

Rick in SC said...

Kay, nice story and ***ditto*** to navy vet.
I haven' t worked with Tom at USC but I know some people who have and word is he's becoming a very big media name around the country.
There was a recent article in The State paper or the Free Times that talked about this and I think said he was syndicated. I know he also writes for some of the larger daily papers in Great Britain too.
I know there are some USC graduates who live in the Northeast that are syndicated but only a few that still reside in SC who are.
Does anybody know who they are?

Rick in SC

Kay Day said...

For a veteran,U.S.Navy,
Thank you for visiting my pages. Thomas is a man of many talents. I've always admired him for his testimony against the Klan. And I also admire the fact that he lived with the homeless in order to write about them so that public attention would be increased. I'm a fan of his too.

For Rick in SC,
Hi, there. Thank you for visiting my pages. Yes, Thomas is doing so well, but you know, he's one of the hardest-working writers I know. He's got the talent, but he also has an incredibly self-driven work ethic.

I don't know about SC writers who are syndicated, but I do know someone who might know that. I will ask her, and if I find out, I will post her response here.

Best regards to all,
Kay Day

Anonymous said...

W. Thomas Smith is not syndicated, though I think he has written for news syndications and I know he writes a national column for some Defence pub and maybe NRO. Syndicated columnists in sunny South Carolina are Jan Warner and Jan Collins who share a nationally syndicated column on elder issues. Kathleen Parker who is a political writer Armstrong Williams, if he still lives in SC who recently got into some hot water over joyrnalism ethics. Ms. Day, I have a question for you. I've written poetry since I was a little girl about 8. But how do I know if my poems are actually good enough to be published? Who determines what is good poetry? I read poems that I think are good and other people say are not, and I see poems that are aweful and they are in books. I write nice letters and I have written some advertising jingles. But my love is for verse.

Kay Day said...

For Anonymous 3
Thank you for coming by and also for offering the information about syndicated columnists from South Carolina. Do visit my pages anytime.

Regarding your question:

But how do I know if my poems are actually good enough to be published? Who determines what is good poetry? I read poems that I think are good and other people say are not, and I see poems that are aweful and they are in books. I write nice letters and I have written some advertising jingles. But my love is for verse.

I don't know if 'good enough' is something I'd apply here. I'm assuming that you are literate, have read a lot of poetry from many different time periods, and are applying the word, 'verse,'in the formal sense, such as poetry with fixed rhyme and meter. If I'm wrong, post away and correct me.

I could actually devote a book to your question. I hear it repeatedly.Like you, I have seen some lame poetry in books. But I have also seen some lame poetry at Open Mic sessions and on television, especially when there has been a great tragedy.

For starters, you might attend a workshop featuring an accomplished poet whose work you like. I don't know where you live, but you could input "Writers' Conferences + {your home state or city}" into your search bar and see what happens.

There are also publications that may help. Poets and Writers has a Net site {} and you might visit there to see if a subscription to the print magazine might be useful. There are many announcments--calls for submission and contest notices in this magazine.

Are there others in your area who might join with you in a small critique group, whereby you provide a copy of something you've written and meet informally to offer suggestions/criticisms?

There is a formal verse workshop on the Internet that is free. In my opinion, studying this workshop is equivalent to taking several upper level writing courses, if for no other reason than the sheer amount of information available. Distinguished poets come to this site and offer commentary on poems posted by members. I would strongly suggest that if you visit, read the posts for several weeks before you post, and always try to offer commentary on others' work; workshops are reciprocal by necessity. Here's a link to that site:{}
There is a noninvasive registration; I've been a member there for years and will be forever grateful for what I learned and for the fine poets I came to know because of participating there. Note: there are also discussions/critiques of open forms there, but the passion's in the formal stuff.

Suggest a poetry workshop to your library. Many publishers list their authors (mine does) at the ALA pages so that libraries can query authors about doing workshops. This is probably one of the least-known options the public has. Your library is a valuable resource; go and see what is waiting/available for you. I will personally be happy to arrange a workshop for your library, and because I know poets in a variety of regions, I could probably also arrange for a multi-presenter presentation. There's also a site, Book that Poet {} that lists poets in many different states. The site is created by Shoshauna Shy, an incredible poet whose work I admire.

Remember that poetry is, as you note subliminally, very subjective. Case in point: Robert Frost. His work was rejected by The Atlantic as "too wild." He went to England, established what we'd now call a platform, and returned triumphant to America with The Atlantic happily publishing his work.

Remember too that poetry is an ever-growing and evolving genre, just like all of literature and the other arts. You may develop a taste for poetry you thought you might not like, with practice. I enjoy just about every type of poetry there is, from spoken word to language poetry, from sonnets to rambling free verse. But you have to open your mind and know the canon(s) in order to appreciate what a poet may be trying to offer. In my last collection, I deliberately included forms like the sonnet, cinquain, and my renegade "free verses (strong sense of rhythm)". One reason I could never function in a "school of poetry" involves my deliberate experimentation with forms and language. After all, I'm doing poetry, not brain surgery. Most poets take themselves far too seriously to be of use to anyone other than those who love them dearly.

Each poet has his or her own aesthetic. For me, poetry is all about sound and sense. Sometimes I rhyme, sometimes I don't--my cultural heritage didn't rely on rhyme, but rather on rhythm (think Beowulf; every poet should read that work). A friend told me that she heard a poet remark at a reading that if poetry doesn't rhyme it isn't poetry. That's the silliest statement I've ever heard.

Pick up a few texts that may be useful to you. Here are some suggestions:
1. In the Palm of Your Hand (by Steve Kowit): in my opinion the very best poetry handbook because it is inclusive of many different styles and offers examples.
2. All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing (by Timothy Steele): somewhat heavy duty, but if you're into "meter and versification," Steele's your man.
3. Good Poems (ed. Garrison Keillor): in my opinion, the best all-around poetry anthology on the market.
4. The Writer (magazine): I've read this magazine since I was a freshman in college. I can't tell you how much I learned and how much work I sold because of it. When I stood in a newstand in my hometown at the ripe age of 18, I decided one day I'd write for that magazine. Now I do. So let that inspire you. You can accomplish anything in writing if you apply yourself in terms of work and scholarship.

Finally, never choose publishing over process. For me, poetry isn't about now, it is about tomorrow. I could honestly care less if anything I write is published. I write my poetry because of obsession, not because of gain. The fact that I've been lucky enough to find people who like my work is enough for me. But I never could've done anything beyond handing a poem to friends and family if I hadn't explored beyond my own perimeter.

I do hope this helps you--if you have other questions, post them here.

Now, go forth and read and write poems! --best to you, Kay Day

I know several accomplished poets read this blog: please feel free to offer your own ideas about this subject.

***I am sorry this is so long. I have a problem with word count. Always did always will.****

Anonymous said...

I think Whitewing is nutz but has a point.

Kay Day said...

for Anonymous# 4

I don't know if Whitewing is "nutz," but this is America, and s/he is entitled to an opinion, as are you.

I don't agree with either of you, but that's obvious.

Welcome, and thanks for coming to my pages.

Best regards,Kay Day

Anonymous said...

What an interesting poem. U.S. males are so inundated by a culture a war that there is no ecaping its inevitability or its consequences from the womb to the tomb. I sense an inherent criticism of nationalism.

Kay Day said...

for Anonymous 5

Thank you for commenting on the poem. For further, lively reading about warriors, rather than war, check out The Bible, The Quran (or The Koran, depending on your media), the history of any ancient (or contemporary) culture, Beowulf, the poems of Horace--there'll be plenty to digest (my suggestions are in no chronological order in terms of history; they're off the top of my head).

On this: "I sense an inherent criticism of nationalism," --well, that is a very interesting response. Poets are always surprised by what others find in a poem. What I find interesting is that technology allows a poet to see what a reader finds for him or herself.

Visit my site anytime.

Best regards, Kay Day

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