Saturday, June 2, 2018

Garden of Verse: Just Because It's June, Do We Have to Keep Graduating?

I don't necessarily spend a lot of time thinking about high school (as in hardly any), but when the editor of Verse-Virtual, the online journal to which I contribute regularly, proposed the theme of "graduation" for the June issue, I found myself going back there. Graduation exercises are pretty much all the same, aren't they? But when you're the graduate who gives the speech, that makes it more of an experience. 
             Poems of this sort, based on recounting personal history, are sometimes called "confessional." That term seems a little too heavy for most of what poets write about themselves. Maybe 'mini-memoirs' is a better name for these short story-like lyrics in which the speaker builds toward some kind of meaning, lesson, self-discovery, or pointed reflection. 
             Or maybe we're just trying to say, 'Here it is. Take it for what it's worth.' 
              Here's my poem about high school graduation.    


They chose me to give the speech,
not the sort of invitation you can decline.
Then they asked to see a draft
and pronounced it pessimistic.
So I revised 
(feels like I've been having this conversation
all my life),
and they declined to look again,
saying whatever I chose to say
would be all right.

But would it?
A third of the way through my wordy tome,
the massed ranks of my six hundred classmates
stared back at me cross-eyed -- some old gag
I fell for, skipping ham-handedly
to the last two pages, and
wrapping up with clarion endorsements
of Resolution and Individuality.

Nobody complained that I'd talked too short.
A girl I didn't know thanked me for 'trying
to say something real,'
not the usual graduation starting-out-on-life's-great-adventure
sort of stuff,

And I would have told her
that I'd stuck to my guns,
resisted pressures from the top
and stared down a crowd of frivolous peers
to make my solitary desert call,

except it wasn't true.


           I have two other poems in the June issue. The poem titled "Graduate Women" also draws on personal experience. 
            The final poem,"The Masques of the Angels of Light," draws on my understanding of spiritual traditions from both West and East to suggest a "moving on" experience of a different sort. 

         You can read them in the June 2018 issue of Verse-Virtual and the poems of all the issue's contributors here:

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