During the 1970s thru the ‘80s, I wrote volumes of poetry, prose and plays. The largest collection of poetry by far was the Sonnets; I wrote over 150 of them. They also spanned the widest frame of writing time; though the bulk of the collection was written by 1984, I contined adding to it until the mid-‘90s. In 1984, I whittled 150 down to 60 poems and rearranged them so that they were grouped thematically. That shorter collection I variously titled “How Like a Woman, the Fog” and “Lost Recoveries”. I don’t think I ever definitively settled on a title, so I’m now choosing simply to call them Sonnets. I’ve also further whittled them down to just fifty; many simply repeated the same self-flagellating theme of lost love and there was only so much of that I could stomach.
Though initially inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets, I soon experimented with other meters and rhyme schemes. While Shakespeare’s were mainly love letters, mine were mostly hate letters. The first one I wrote in high school and it was titled The Highbinder. It was more in the style of Edgar Allan Poe: a creepy reminiscence of a hired assassin, about as far from a traditional love sonnet as I could get. That one isn’t included in this final collection.
In an era before personal computers, the sonnets were written on a small Remington manual typewriter that I had been given when I was eleven years old. Although this was the most sizable collection of poetry I ever penned, it was never published (though I certainly tried).
Shakespeare wasn’t my sole poetic influence. I had been reading voraciously then, and also grew especially fond of the writings of Wordsworth, Whitman, Ferlinghetti and Bukowski. The last three nudged me to finally abandon my obsession with rhyme and meter, which I had always held as technically superior to free verse.
So my first collection of free verse was The Loss of Innocence: Free at Last. Many of these poems were written during my first year at the University of Mississippi, where I sunk into the lowest depression of my life. The poems are filled with self-pity and remorse, the overwrought kind that signals the arrogance of youthful ignorance. I bound the collection in 1986 but didn't publish it.
The next collection was Skipping Stones, in 1987. I had been sending off samples of my poetry to prospective publishers for years and had amassed dozens of rejections letters. So with this collection, I took things into my own hands. Output on a flatbed drafting printer, I designed the cover with concentric circles looking like ripples in a pond. I had copies of the collection made at a local print shop and placed them on consignment at local bookstores (of which there were many at the time). I even sold a few. These free verse poems are more wry and allegorical in nature and, thankfully, lighter on the self-pity.
My final collection was Reflections, which also was distributed to local bookstores. I designed its cover as well, a tire tread smeared diagonally across the front. Many of these poems were written while I was a watchman at Mountain Park, and the dark lonely setting infused most of the poetry with a somber tone. With this collection, I felt I had exhausted my experiments with the free verse form. After it was published in 1988, I ceased writing poetry and instead refocused on writing music. Some of the material in both Skipping Stones and Reflections became the basis for my final pop album in 1993, Waves.
Over the busy decades since, I had mostly forgotten about all of this writing. But rather than allow the yellowed pages to continue gathering dust, I decided to subject adventurous readers to these ancient ramblings in digital form in hope that a poem or two might ring true.
- Jay Ducharme, 2017