Thoughts: Playing with Person

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I have a slow day today, so I am spending a lot of it on kickstarting some writing projects I’ve wanted to play with for some time.

One was a detective novel I began a few months ago. I am a few chapters into it now and I began to wonder what it would be like if I changed the voice from third person to first person, telling the story from the view of one of the two kind-of private detectives. This is a time-honored way of doing detective stories, going back as far as dear Sherlock Holmes and one of my favorites, the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout.

I am a sucker for the old film noir novels of the forties and fifties, from Raymond Chandler to the Dick Powell radio stories of Richard Diamond. Could I do something like that I wondered? Would it be more fun to write? Would it be a better story?

So I tried it this morning, converting the first chapter from third to first person. It was fun, I have to tell you. Is it better as a story? I haven’t decided. I may do another chapter or two and let it sit a while.

I like playing with person. I do it a lot in my poems, some of which fall in all three persons, first, second and third. I don’t know why some voices work better in some poems than others.

I spent much or my writing life in the third person. Poems and fiction were always in third person.  Then, maybe twenty years ago, I wrote a poem called “Greubin’s First Squirrel”. I actually write several poems about Gruebin, which explored how a regular kid, a regular person, became a heartless Nazi. I wrote “Greubin’s First Squirrel” in the second person: “you”.

And I was stunned at the result. The poems were bought immediately and I had a little flurry of poetry fame. More importantly, I realized person mattered.

I don’t always know when I am writing, what’s the best person to use. I tinker. I try stuff. I listen to what I write. It’s an odd kind of editing that cares less for spelling than the power of the right voice.

Mostly, I don’t like editing. I write fast and (mostly) well. A lot of my first drafts are perfectly good. My copywriting clients often tell me how good and I find myself almost embarrassed at how quickly I can write things and how little I edit.

It’s not that I don’t understand the value of editing. I do. And I do it when I think I need to. I just don’t like it. Details bore me. Nitpicking bores me, even when I understand the value.

But editing the voice, the person? That’s fun. That’s playtime. It’s like fingerpainting with words. Make it one way, stick your fingers in the wet paint and make it another way. Repeat. Sooner or later you find something good, but in the meanwhile, I’ve had fun with it.

So I had fun today. We’ll see if it sticks, if I let the fingerpainting of this version dry or mess with it again later on.

It’s nice when writing is fun. I often call it therapy and it is. Especially the poetry. But it has not lost the fun part either. You’d never know it from my verse, but my major influences in writing are Tennyson, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickenson, and Dr. Seuss. You don’t get much Suess in my poetry, but the fun part is still there as I play and experiment.

Poets and artists often get a bad rap for being morose, depressed, miserable people full of struggles and angst. And yes, some of my own verse would bear that out a bit. But we all aren’t Sylvia Plath. There is pleasure in writing, and at times fun. We enjoy doing art and often there is way more play in it, even the dark stuff, than people realize.

And when I have extra time, like today? I have fun. Way too much fun, playing with persons like a kid changing paper doll clothes, finger painted of course.

Be well. Travel wisely. Don’t forget to have fun.


Poem: Simple Magic

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Simple Magic

A little less
and a little less.
No need to hurry.
Simply remove one thing
and then another.

what you need
and what you do not.
The list is shorter than you think.

Give things away.
Release them.
Someone will want them, sure
it is just what they need.

There is magic in it, understanding
how little you need.

There is power in it.
Heaven and happiness grows closer, simpler,
more possible
as the fear of what you might loose grows
less and less

About this poem

When I went through my divorce a dozen years ago, I took very little from our huge old farmhouse in Virginia. My ex kept asking “Don’t you want this (or that)?”  In the moment, I took less because I did not care. I was too broken to care.

But as I healed, I quickly found I liked having less. And life ever since then has been a quest to give things away faster than they seemed to come in. And after more than a decade, I’ve learned what I need and what I want, and I’ve learned I need less than I used to think.

I like simple. It calms me. It leaves room for the new. It leaves room for thought and spirit and creativity to expand and fill the space.

The picture was taken at the Hancock Shaker Village near Pittsfield, Massachusetts.


Poem: Almost Monochrome

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Almost Monochrome

Another day. Almost monochrome,
with just a touch of green cutting through the snow,
the slightest hint of spring.
due tomorrow, a date on the calendar,
something to laugh at as the temperature falls in the night.

Another day. Almost monochrome.
Your mood and the distant trees are kissing cousins,
not quite black, the markers of boundary lines
between land and moods.

You smile at them. At the grey.
At the evening fog rising from the creeks.
For this is what they do not know,
those who paint you and your depression in black and white
when it is anything but.

For after a long season of cold and grey,
your eyes change. You see color like a cat sees light
in the midnight air.
Even the smallest hue burns your retinas
and makes them tear down your cheeks,
a beauty more treasured in the grey season
than in any other.

Another day. Almost monochrome,
but not quite.

About this poem. 

One of the misconceptions about people with depression is that we feel no joy and are never happy. Those who know us know that is not true. Happiness is perhaps more rare in our lives, but it is treasured all the more because of that rareness.

The picture was taken near West Rupert, Vermont, a couple of small towns down the road from me.


Poem (sorta): Exposè

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“I could write about depression.”

Not again. You’ve done that one to death. Besides, you’re in a pretty good place today. You beat that sucker like a drum this morning. It didn’t have a chance.”

“Loss and abandonment then.”

Not feeling it.”

“A love poem then. I am sure feeling that.”

Come on. Don’t you think their all a bit tired of your smaltzy second chance at love story?” Give it a rest.”

“Something spiritual then. I’ve been doing deeper than normal bible study the last week or two.”

Oh sure, feed ’em a truckload of theology. You’ll put them to sleep before they get to the second stanza.”

“Politics and lies. Always topical these days.”

Yawn. They can get that in the news. What makes you think your one voice in the crowd makes a difference? Get real, Atkins.”

“You aren’t making this easy.”

It’s my job. I’m good at it. Decades of practice.

“It is pretty outside. A nature poem then.”

“Yeah, Right. Haven’t you noticed how even the die-hard Vermonters are sick of winter? “

“I have just the thing, then,”

Yeah. Right.”

“An exposè”

You’ve got my attention. An exposè of what?

(I smile devilishly.) You.

About this poem, or whatever it is.

My inner conversation this morning. Pretty common actually. When you aren’t feeling writing, you write about not feeling writing.


Poem: It Should be Spring

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It Should Be Spring

Your mother’s death, too few years ago,
in the season that should be spring.

Abuse of children and old men, hidden in the dark,
spilling out again a generation later,
and a generation after that.

The haunting image of empty shoes,
reminders of death by weapons of war
where there is no war.

The broken in your backyard, untreated.
their minds and bodies become wastelands
of lives that should be healed and whole.

Relationships built on lies, one on the other,
their foundations full of cracks, dreading
the first tremor that can send them tumbling.

Too much.
Too close.

It is not all dark. No.
There is love, intimate and passionate
wrapped in Paul’s love letter.

There are children, once lost, regained
and held close. Vital things, born helpless,
battered young, yet grown whole again.
You rejoice each day for their wings.

There are the one or two you touch,
the places you make a difference,
hearts not broken, but healed.
Your joy in them is immeasurable.

Your heart is too weak
to feel it all at once.  Time and circumstance
have left their scars, and they still seep.

It should be spring.
But not yet. God will send it in his time,
but for now, you are still covered in snow,
waiting for the thaw.

About this poem

It’s been a long week or two. Rough, less for myself than for so many around me. Still…

It’s time for spring. I think the first warm day that comes along, I am going to chuck everything and sit in the sun.

But that may be a while.


Poem: What the Dark Covers


What the Dark Covers

There are a hundred ways to kill.
Most of them are done in the dark,
no less fatal than the boy with his weapon of war,
they are fatal.

The cruelty of parents, siblings and strangers.
People without ears.
Procedures without hearts.
The acceptance of hate, some of it
disguised as love.
An old man abused in his own home.
A wife battered by a husbands words and lies.
A young child’s body claimed and ravaged
by those they should be able to trust the most.
Madness, untreated.
Legislators in marble halls caught up in politics,
their souls checked at the door.
The wars families fight, uncaring of casualties
as long as it is not their own.
Untreated madness. Unchallenged anger.
Unacknowledged desperation
left to fester.

There are a hundred ways to kill.
Most of them are done in the dark.

About this poem.

This morning, the anger is spilling out a bit. But it’s the truth.

The picture was taken in downtown Athol, Mass.


Poem: Museum Piece


Museum Piece

There is dust on the folders.
Dust on the desk.
Deep white dust, thick as decades.
Otherwise, nothing has changed.
Someone walked out,
shut the door.
And life went on.

About this poem. 

A poem about both abandonment, and how life goes on.

The picture was taken at the Rogers Store Museum in Surry County.