Thursday, July 7, 2016

O, O, O... as in "O, Azaleas..."

Savannah is known for its azaleas about the second week in March. One spring in the 1990s our poetry society had a poet from Auburn, New York, visit to do a program. I remember his program on the haiku, but at this moment I don't remember his name nor the name of his book buried on my poetry shelves.

I do, however, remember clearly something he said and a subsequent poem I was moved to write called, "O, Azaleas." 

This poet, you see, was advocating the judicious use of "O" and other such poetry-society-sappy-purple prose-romantic poet- language in our poems. He said, "Each poet is allowed only two O's in a lifetime." 

I knew immediately what my first O would be used for, because I had longed for something that properly expressed my feeling about the head high azalea-lined streets like Washington, and those at Bonaventure Cemetery which lay just beyond the marsh behind us and beyond the Wilmington River. They were old and massive and the sheer color made you feel like wallowing about in the blossoms.

Using the second O has not been so easy. Once used, it would be gone. And, after all, much mushy lyricism subsides simply with age. So far, I've never been willing to give up the second O. This morning, however, as I reminisced at yet another frothy bed of white heads in my front yard, I thought I might consider the use of my second O:

Ah, the O!
O, Queen Anne's Lace! O, Pink Perfection! O, Plumbago! O, Lettye! O, Gerald! O, Arthur! O, Katonah! O, dear Carolyn! O, flowers of Savannah! Gone.  

Ah, Anthony Navarra! I have found both your books on my shelf--the one I bought when you and Mary visited the poetry society and I introduced you. Books jog the memory, especially when they hold the copy of a personal note from William Stafford who said, "Like the collie in your poem, I have been a drinker from the bottom tier; now I am glancing up and deep into what haiku can provide." I remember him and his wife in Charleston and my handing his wife my poem to him. "You must know," I said to her "that two women in Savannah, my friend Sara and I, are in love with your husband." "Just two?" she quipped with a smile.

Ah, Tony. You read my poem and extended the number of O's I might use, citing Basho as an example: "How about Ah's? The great Basho put three Ah's in just 17 syllables.

Ah, Matsushima, 
Matsushima, Ah,
Ah, Matsushima"

Dear readers, if you are still here after such meandering, tell me, how did I come up with my title here"Ah, the O!" when I had absolutely zero recollection of Navarra's note and this comment about the use of Ah...

Ah, the mystery of writing. In looking for Navarra's work, I found a book Anne George had published of contemporary Alabama poets, A Baker's Dozen, 1988. In her essay, "A Momentary Peace," she writes and I have highlighted this: 

"I write because I need to, because life is so sad and ridiculously funny. And sometimes when I finish a poem, when I have captured a moment in the music of words, I almost think things make sense. A momentary peace. It is enough."

Anne George attended that same conference at the College of Charleston. It was there that she met an editor who sent her to an agent with her prose. I have not thought of Anne in some time, nor any of this detail: she was one of the first publishers of my poetry in her annual Oktoberfest competition in the 80's.

Ah, the synchronicity! I'm posting this now or I won't be able to believe it myself. Edit as you please, but this is a true story of my strange, strange life as a writer. 

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