The Late Blooming Logophile, Ending in a Line by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Believe it or not, my love of language came late. Oh sure, I read when I was a child–hell, I read a lot. My father gave me a collection of Classic Comics, a title I’m sure is long forgotten. When the other kids my age were reading X-Men or their brother’s Playboys, I was absorbing comic recreations of Moby Dick, or All Quiet On The Western Front. But my true appreciation for language as a medium for artistic creation came much later. I guess you could say I was a bit of a late bloomer.
After high school, I joined the Navy. There are three things I remember missing in basic training. First of all, chairs. I missed chairs the most, and secondly couches. But the third thing I missed in basic training was books. We were only allowed a holy book of our choice (looking back on things, I should have made a case for Allen Ginsberg), and the standard issue Blue Jackets Manual (which we lovingly dubbed The Blow Jobs Manual). Up to that point, having access to literature was something I had taken for granted. Yeah sure, Mark and John and Luke tried to fill the void, and sure, I thought they wrote some pretty good books, but I was longing for stimulation.
The first thing I did when I graduated from boot camp and was sent to Pensacola, Florida for training, was take a walk down to the little base library. I didn’t know what I was looking for, and they didn’t have any Classic Comics (or Playboys). I grabbed a novel I found standing open on top of the meager little shelf of literary novels. I liked the art deco scene of an embracing couple which graced its front. You heard me right, I picked it because I liked the cover. That novel turned out to be Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, and it blew me away.
I’d never knew that one could blend poetry and prose. I wasn’t even exactly sure what prose was, and as for poetry, as Lew Welch once said, “twelve years of education had done its best to convince me that I don’t like it.” Why isn’t Ondaatje using quotation marks? His characters are experiencing real human emotions like love and pain and inadequacy and I was o.k with that!
Now this was a revelation.
Shortly after, I purchased my first collection of poetry, The Collected Poems of Nazim Hikmet. They were accessible. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t getting something. I didn’t quite know what I felt, I just knew I liked it. Each one of theses poems was saying something more than the sum of its parts, it had (as one professor would later call it) a certain “voodoo.” I was hooked. You know you’re hooked when you hear your buddies say, “Bro, whenever you drink too much you always wanna’ talk about books.”
Fast forward ten years and here I am. I’ve left a career in the Navy, packed up my family and moved back to Northern California because I’d heard that Raymond Carver used to haunt the bars around here. I’m learning how to be better at “talking about books.” I have four copies of In the Skin of a Lion just waiting to be passed out to a book club. I’m living high on the hog. So now, whenever I get a chance, I sit down in my comfy chair, and grab a new book. Life is good!
But then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling
Stan Upshaw was born in Eureka, California, and currently lives in Chico, California where he is a student, editor and poet. He will be pursuing an MFA in creative writing in 2014. He lives with his wife, Margie, his daughter, Johanna, and is expecting a son in June.