He held no interest in the workshops until he saw Sandra Alcosser, a visiting poet, walk with me across the yard on our way to the Programs Room. After that workshop, he hailed me from the other side of the fence separating the sidewalk from the rec yard, and asked how he could get into the workshop. I told him what I tell everyone who asks, "Send in a kite." I thought that was the last I would hear from him. After all, the excitement of seeing a woman visitor on the yard passes as quickly as a June rain shower.
He did, however, follow up, and soon became the hardest working member of the workshops. A. is a lyricist at heart. He writes love songs, but he wants to understand poetry. He devours books I bring in. Laurence Perrine's Sound and Sense, for example, has long been a classic for university poetry seminars. It's a semester-long text book that covers theories of poetry, forms, and it contains a lifetime's worth of prompts for writing verse.
A. worked through the book and about drowned us all with the wave of paper filled with his responses to the prompts. He wrote villanelles, pantoums, haikus, acrostic poems, sonnets. He experimented with form poems, free verse. He crawled into metaphor, metonymy, meditations, and rants. The guy was on fire.
His eyes look at me with a gaze I would expect from a bird of prey -- sharp and hungry. His nose is sharp, brow low, cheeks chiseled. There is an edge to him to makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes. But his passion for writing gives him charisma of leadership in the workshops. He is unafraid to speak his mind when critiquing the work of big-shot gangsters.
Beneath the sharp exterior, A. is a man in love with words. He spends hours revising single lines once he gets to the point where he wants to polish a piece. And he speaks lucidly about his quandaries between the connotations of one word or another. When he can't decide between one and another, he makes up a new word, such as "contradistinctive" in the piece below, or he juxtaposes opposites, such as the Dionysian Apollonian. I don't if it's because I know him, can hear his voice in these constructions, or if they do carry an organic sensibility, but his inventions make sense to me.
His work looks at complexity, paradox, contradiction. He goes to the heart of ambivalence. His instincts for tension help him sniff out the stories lurking in his own work and the work of others. He loves deeply and is angry. That might fuel some of his insights into conflict.
When, J., a grad student in the MFA program came in to talk about prose poetry, she brought along copies of J.G. Ballard's poem "What I Believe." Here A. found a form capable of conveying the range of his vision. Here is a sample of his work: