were such a thing to happen
It turns out I owe Jill Littlewood an apology, whether she thinks so or not. On the way to publishing Wild Once and Captured, I wrote a preface, an author’s introduction to the terrible, terrible deeds recently committed by the writer, soon to be shared with the reader. It was not actually a very confessional piece; it was instead a justification of sorts for publishing my own damn self without good reasons, beyond vainglory, for the action and the product that resulted.
I remain, by the way, quite proud of the work that Ella Epton, the book’s designer and my sister-in-law, and Stacee Kalmanovsky, the book’s illustrator and my niece, did in making Wild Once a reality. Happily, I have also grown fonder of some of the poems within.
In that preface, I sought to frame myself as a poet, coyly beginning the whole thing with the phrase “if I am a poet” so that I might maintain deniability . “Oh, no,” I would claim, “I didn’t mean to say I was a poet, only that if there were readers out there who considered the contents to be poems, and if any of them were to wonder, in a general way, how I came to write some of them or all, then here, in a general way, is how that came to pass.”
The truth, of course, is that I would like for you to consider me a poet, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. That was the argument beneath the apology in the preface that begins by crediting Geoffrey Chaucer, Mr. Rast and Jill Littlewood for their continuing influence on me, up to and including the point where I thanked them for instigating in me a love of writing in short phrases and forms.
Jill and I were in all the same English classes throughout high school. We were never really friends, but she seemed to be a good student. Knowing myself to be anything but studious, I respected that apparent characteristic in Jill. In the original preface I attributed a line from a poem, “mud luscious and puddle wonderful,” to something she wrote.
This turns out to be a sort of recovered memory of mine. The phrase is actually from an e.e. cummings poem, one that I likely encountered later in life, but somehow conflated with a memory of Jill.
When I tracked Jill down (after nearly 50 years of no contact) and sent her a copy of Wild Once and Captured, she responded quickly, noting with regret that she had plagiarized e.e. cummings in her youth. She also said very nice things about the book. Unfortunately, I can’t track down that message, which raises the possibility that sometime in the future I will misrepresent her, again.
In any case, the fact that I misattributed a line from cummings to Jill needs to be clear. It was my bad, notwithstanding her willingness to take the rap.
The follow-up lesson here is that one can create facts out of memories regardless of their accuracy, making fraudulent history in the process. This also suggests to me that writing is almost by definition a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland experience in which words always mean either more or less than they were supposed to mean and never define, describe or depict exactly what I intended them to mean.
I also have no difficulty imagining myself picking up a pencil and writing a piece that borrows the words of another writer. Obviously, I’ve done it already—in the event, stealing words and then framing Jill for the theft.
One of my poems, The Unfolding, references my relaxed position on plagiarizing:
I set out line by line
to steal a poem from others
and piece by piece
to build my own.
Nevertheless, writing, sometimes a burdensome process, is often great fun for me. Sometimes, it is the most liberating thing I do. After all, humans can imagine just about anything.
This is a capacity that most of us, myself included, underutilize. Still, I try. I’ve attached another poem here, perhaps one day also to be included in a reprint of Wild Once and Captured. The poem, titled “The Transgressive Acts of Men,” may need a little explaining, which I’m not actually going to do.
But let me say, regarding the title, that the poem has little to do with multiple transgressions and wrongdoing by men of whatever description. This may be disappointing to some readers, but then Norman Mailer’s 1967 novel, Why Are We in Vietnam?, only mentioned that country once and provoked numerous discussions about whether the book had actually answered the question it raised. So it might be with “The Transgressive Acts of Men.”
The transgressions in question here are in reality singular and limited to me imagining myself to be an earth mother of sorts. Hubris and delusion, yes?
The Transgressive Acts of Men
Excluded from the matrilineal ascent,
I am before and beyond
all my mothers,
all my daughters,
mothering the clan;
in my DNA,
the Amazonian last daughter
staring in wonder
at the brink,
holding the hand
of all my sisters,
mindful of our brothers,
among whom I once was counted;
all who we were,
all who we are gone nova.
when it comes,
almost more than we can bear,
more for certain than we can know,
memories on the way,
partners on the road,
dreams on the wing,