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For a long while, almost from the beginning of the time I began to write poetry seriously, I never spent much time thinking of publishing my work or of gaining a wide audience. Some few of my friends and colleagues graciously agreed to read various of my poems, but despite their generally kind and positive comments about them, I resisted the idea of publication. But recently, my thinking has begun to change. Although I would still be surprised if my poetry ever gained a wide popularity, I have decided that it might be fun to at least test the waters of public opinion more deeply than I have heretofore. The current volume is one means of doing so.
Turning Tears Inside Out contains 40 poems composed between 1969 and 1975, seven years of spontaneous and irregular efforts. Since I never aspired to make my living as a poet, all of my poems are written as the mood strikes me. Indeed, months will often go by between one poem and the next, although I often will compose several poems in a bunch when inspiration is upon me. Naturally, not everything I have ever written is included here; poems of a particularly personal nature or those of blatant triviality have been excluded. In some ways this frustrates me, for what I consider to be some of the best verse is often to be be found in poems not yet far enough removed from their subjects to allow them access by a general readership. Nonetheless, in what remains there is still much I consider reasonably good.
I am far from considering myself a great poet (no matter how one defines "greatness"!) and probably am by many standards not even a "good" poet. One might ask, "Why do you write poetry at all?" This is a good question which I am not certain can be satisfactorily answered--at least, not at this stage in my life. Writing in general has always been more or less fun for me. I've been intrigued by words and languages, although I've never really conquered any foreign language. Often, I like just "to turn a phrase", to use words in a sonorous or humorous way. But even more often I write seriously, yet still searching for the unusual juxtaposition or odd description. To me, there is a form of natural rhythm inherent in the English language which I attempt to utilize in my poetry, and in the best poems this subtle rhythm creates a lovely effect in a language not entirely noted for its beauty. I try to avoid novelty for its own sake--too much modern poetry is self-consciously faddish and superciliously obscure. However, none of this really answers WHY I like to write poems.
In fact, I consider myself a much better prose writer than poet. I find it generally tedious to revise and rework, alter and improve my poems. Very often--almost always, in fact--my poetry stands as it was first written. Only relatively recently have I begun to take more time to make revisions and improvements. Perhaps this is poetic maturation.
But again--WHY write a poem in the first place? Well, some things just come out better as poems than as prose. I am a very romantic, sensitive, and idealistic person. This, I'm sure, comes through in many of the poems. It is meant to, either consciously or unconsciously. I do not strive to be either serious or pretentious or ingenuous or subtle or facile or meaningful or relevant or anything else in my poetry. My poetry just IS and must be accepted, as you would a person. I do not believe in obscurity for its own sake (though I can be obscure at times!) nor do I think that every poem must have a high and serious meaning. If it does, fine--but if not, then that too is perfectly alright. My poems generally are rather personal, concerning matters of import to me. This probably limits their appeal and audience, but as I said earlier, I have never thought of trying to establish a huge audience. It is enough if some few persons can read one of my poems and say to him- or herself, "Oh yes, I too have felt this. That's how it is." Though some of my poems are quite dismal and despondent, I would characterize the overall tone of my poetry as cautiously optimistic and hopeful. There is much good in the world and I probably would write about more of it, if my personal life were more satisfying. About writers in general Louis D. Rubin, Jr., has said the following, and I think it would apply to me as well:
Most of them are discontented with the cosmos; if they weren't, and could accept it at face value without having to try to give it order and meaning in language, they wouldn't be writers.
On these pages you will find everything--good, bad, and indifferent--within the limitations spelled out above. Some of it is clumsy, inept, and juvenile. But remember that everyone must begin somewhere and read those pieces for their occasional insights and glimpses of things to come. Here is a unique panorama of development--and I commend it to your attention with the hope that you will find it interesting and insightful into the life of one human individual of the mid-twentieth century in America.
Technology has changed considerably since I put together the typed, spiral-bound version of Turning Tears Inside Out in early 1981. There was no World Wide Web then, and I had only a correcting typewriter to work with--not even a word processor! The advent of the Web and the possibility for me to construct a "home page" of my own gives me a new and exciting means of placing my poetry before the public. All but one of the poems included in the 1981 version are included here. I have little to add to my original Preface. I still hope that those of you who read these poems will find things in them that speak to you in ways that perhaps only the heart can truly understand. If you have any comments you would like to share with me, I would be happy to receive them. You may E-mail me at JFO@VIRGINIA.EDU.
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