Forty-five years ago, on a blistering summer day, my wife and I wandered along the boardwalk on Catalina Island, just off the Los Angeles coast. We stepped into one of many small gift shops and I noticed a little white book with child-like drawings of flowers on the cover. It was titled Songs for a Son, and written by a man named Robert L. Peters, a professor at California State University, Riverside. I picked it up and read from the back cover. Professor Peters, it explained, had written these poems when overwhelmed with grief by the sudden death of his four-year old son from an onslaught of meningitis.
The poetry was stunning. Simple, direct, gut-wrenching. But was it really poetry, I wondered? With no rhymes or overt musical cadence? No “sing-songy”, flowery Victorian language? No inane sentimentality? I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I was sure of one thing. The words created pictures in my mind and jolted me off the pages. I knew at once this was the kind of writing I wanted to explore, understand and create – raw, visceral writing that would take my readers to another place, a place that made them not just read, but see and feel what I was trying to express.
Today, I’ve managed to publish a good deal of work, and I’ve piled up many rejections. But whatever my successes or failures, one thing is a constant. Nearly a half century after discovering that wonderful little book, I am still amazed, still passionate and still trying to master this elusive craft.