Bill Coleman

What could be more satisfying than a poem - with its sound, the look of it on the page, the message it sends to the heart, or its challenge to the mind?

Bill Coleman came to poetry late in life. After years and years of wrestling, and usually failing, at an autobiographical account of his childhood as a military "brat", undecided about such things as how to use tense and person, he came upon Walt Whitman's "Specimen Days" and saw it as a way out of his dilemma. He could write his piece as a series of scenes, memories of unrelated but specific events. He would be freed of the need for continuity, timeline, or deliberate cause and effect. And they might even be written in verse!

Something else he owes to Whitman is that poetry need not be tight nor specific. A soft focus can be much more effective when it comes to resonate with the reader. And controlled repetition need not be avoided. One may set a scene, guide the reader toward what is in mind, and allow him to interpret in his own way. The reader may be able to see into the author's soul in ways not possible for him. The reader can be, in effect, a therapist.

It is easy to set guidelines for writing the sort of poetry Bill Coleman does, but less to put those guidelines into practice. He tends to write sparingly and tight. He has been accused of archaic style and vocabulary. To this he says, "Phooey! I AM archaic." It's taken him 77 years to accumulate his vocabulary--damned if he'll throw it away to spare the sensibilities of a critic or two, which brings another point: the reader of a poem has a responsibility as well. There is partnership, a collaboration, between the poet and his reader. A reader must read with a certain amount of effort and intelligence if he means to "get it". If a word is new to him, he must look it up in a dictionary. If a phrase escapes him, he needs to read it again--and then read it again. And even then be prepared not to get it. I understand that James Joyce once said of his work that there were so many mysteries, enigmas, codes, puzzles and secrets in it that it would take many lifetimes to uncover them. Some of them may never be figured out.

Bill urges: read the poem, read it out loud, listen to it, see how it shapes itself on the page, and relax your focus. Let it do its work. Let it resonate. If it doesn't, try again. If it still doesn't, go on to another poem. There are many of them waiting to be discovered.


O, My God! I Am My Father!

Thoughts of Dying