Opinion » Bill Cope

Mr. Cope's Cave: The Line Breaks of my Life

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As there is nothing happening anywhere on the planet Earth but Donald Trump, and as I am sick to death of writing about Donald Trump, I have decided to show you a bit of something I've been working on for several years, off and on. It's a poem. Specifically, it is a poem about me. My intention is to produce an autobiography of my life entirely in free verse. The working title is What the Hell Happened to Me?, with separate episodes and reflections having their own titles, just as chapters might in a regular autobiography.

At this point, I have about 15 "chapters" semi-completed for What the Hell Happened to Me?. I say "semi-completed" because, as I learned as a student of creative writing some 50 years ago, when it comes to writing a poem, one is never completely done. You may think you're done when you finally put it to bed after spending an evening trying to snorkel down to the bed rock of your inner ocean, rolling over word after word to see what's lurking underneath and whether it is the right fit for whatever you're trying to express. But then you rise rested and perky the next morning, get out your new creation to see what it looks like in daylight, and it's all, "UGH! This sucks crap!"

You can't even understand why you made the line break choices you did. One day, you're darling reads like a deeply expressive, intelligently innovative, creative masterpiece. The next day, in another frame of mind and mood, to looks like a jigsaw puzzle of random phrases that was assembled wrong.

This is precisely why I hate poetry. Particularly the free verse kind, in which the poet does any damn thing he or she wants with the structure, no thought at all given to rhyme or meter. To compare the architectural precision of a Shakespeare sonnet, even the musical lilt of Robert Frost, to the feral howling of an Alan Ginsberg or the mumbled shufflings of Ferlinghetti... why, it's like hanging a child's refrigerator crayon drawing next to a Goya and considering them seriously as belonging in the same genre.

At least, that's what I think. (And if you're a free verse poet who's getting all defensive and grumpy at what I'm saying here, don't bother to complain to me. I've heard it all before. I suggest you sit down and take it out on another poem.)

Now, this may lead you to wonder why I've chosen free verse as the infrastructure for my autobiography. Good question. The truth is, I am simply not good enough to write anything very long or involved with meter and rhyme. It would take me the rest of my life to turn out a poem about my preschool days, and it would end up reading like a series of limericks written by a cowboy poet.

More pertinently, as I examine aspects of my past I deem worthy of a poem, I find little in the way of cohesiveness and consistency that would translate naturally into metered rhythms and thoughtful rhyme. In other words, my life has been free verse all along, whether I like it or not.

Now, without offending modern poets any further... poor babies... an excerpt from What the Hell Happened to Me?

My Ketchum Papa

                       the 
Day I turned four
Teen, my
Dad gave me a
Used
12 gauge. I was too
Unreflective then to ask him
Where he
Got it.

50 years
Later, it’s in the
Coat closet. I don’t use it for
Anything other than to
Know it’s
Still
There.

                       the
Day I turned four
Teen was in
19
61. I never thought much a-
Bout it until
Lately, but
19
61 was the same year
Hemingway did that . . .
You know . . . that . . . that . . .
Thing he did with that . . . that . . .
You-know
What!

                        he
Did it just up the
Road from here, no more than
200
Miles from here, as the
Pheasants fly, where he’d
Finally had
Enough of what he’d
Become.

                         it’s too late
Now, but I wish I’d had back
Then the
Nature to ask my
Dad where he
Got it. I’m not saying . . .
Really, I’m
Not . . . that I
Honestly
Think there’s a
Kilimanjaro
Snowball’s
Chance that the
You-know
What in my
Coat closet is the
Same
One.

                       but
Really . . . we
Know what happened to
Ernest, but does
Anyone know what happened to the
12 gauge?