“I read somewhere that most people’s favorite teacher is a high school English teacher. That doesn’t mean that English teachers are better than other teachers. It means that rather than talk about amoebas or equations, we talk about feelings – Holden Caulfield’s, Hamlet’s, Hedda Gabler’s – and teenagers are full of feelings, so we’re right up their alley. Teaching literature is like shooting fish in a barrel and damned near solipsistic; every great book is, after all, about me.”
The way I tried to balance the fictional and real was to write a totally fictional story, starting with the death of the great cellist, involving characters who did not exist and events that never happened which, nonetheless, allowed me to describe the emotional realities of growing up in a world of classical music, with a great cellist for a father and a great instrument for a companion.
Lorna and I were friends through our daughters playing on the same softball team, and I used to watch her work on her art in the bleachers while we were “watching” the games. Fascinated by a sculpture Lorna was working on one season, I wrote a poem called “Bound Feet” and sent it to her.
I am deeply aware that “truth” can be debated; all I can do as a writer is convey the truth that I’ve deduced from evidence. Each person coming to that evidence may find a different way of expressing inferences. A biography, after all, is the intersection of my own biography—my experiences, people I’ve known, my personality— with that of my subject.
The last thing I want to be in my writing is didactic and preachy, but I do want to remind my readers that, in a way, all of life is a domino effect, that people suffer a lot and for a lot of different reasons, and that we all probably need to work on our empathy skills and on paying attention a bit more.
The voices in these poems are not often heard outside the South, and they are voices that, like the land, are being lost with the development and modernization that characterize the New South. Yet they express emotions and concerns we all share, and wherever I’ve taken this project, people are responding to it.
When I was younger, I was drawn to activities for which I had a natural aptitude, but discovered that I couldn’t feel really passionate about something that didn’t require more of me than I thought I was able to give. I’ve learned a lot about how to be brave and vulnerable, fearless and reverent by fighting and writing my way forward.