Journey into Poetry: Richard Maxson

When I was very young, I read and memorized poems because I liked reciting and hearing the words. They seemed like food left for me at the edge of a field, far from a house I never dreamed could be mine.

My father made beautiful, sometimes large, stained glass windows, drawing the images with subtle colors he would transfer onto pieces of glass through a silkscreen process before firing them in a kiln in our basement. Piece by piece he would make the whole, binding the image in lead. At the time, I did not realize the poetry of my father’s hands.

When I was fifteen, my parents sold everything we owned and we sailed to Madrid. My parents lived in an apartment across from the Prado Museum; my sister and I lived in separate boarding schools. I remember the occasional visits to the apartment, where our neighbors made paella on an open pit and sang and danced to the sound of guitars. During the weeks at school, I would sneak out and, for a nickel, buy a tray of calamari and a bottle of beer that I ate and drank as I wandered the streets and subways of Madrid.

We returned to the states and I finished high school in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to Los Angeles where I joined a theater group. For eight years, I helped build the Oxford Theater—now one of the premier small theaters in LA—where I acted in small, original productions and helped design sets and lighting. Poetic sights and sounds surrounded me, changing me as quietly as light changes a painting.

At twenty-six I moved to Houston and began college as a Biology major. I took a playwriting course and English composition. I read my Norton poetry anthologies as required, but poetry seemed strange and difficult—I preferred the fiction of Hardy, Styron and Joyce. Both professors encouraged me to spend much of my time writing, so I kept journals, wrote essays, and penned a couple of one-act plays, but never poetry.

I transferred to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where I took my first poetry class and wrote my first poem. Fellow students seemed to appreciate and enjoy “The Butterfly” when I read it aloud. I loved writing it, but after class the teacher told me what I wrote was not poetry, not even close. Discouraged, I didn’t write another poem until years later, but I did start to regularly read poems. I bought a collection of Wallace Stevens called The Palm at the End of the Mind because the title intrigued me. I unwittingly chose a challenging poet, but the title of that volume came from a more accessible poem, Of Mere Being, and it touched me to my core.

For many years I earned my living as a technical writer for software development, but poetry continued to feed me. I read mostly poetry now, along with the occasional novel and books about political science. I have participated in various writing workshops over the years but aside from poetry composed for Tweetspeak and a small newspaper that asked if they could print one of my earlier poems, I have never been published.

I have, however, learned to pay attention to that which shapes and beckons us while we are going elsewhere—the light in the window we pass many times without thinking, the subtly colored pieces bound together to make the whole, and the distant voice inviting us to come close, to enter, to make ourselves at home.

Image by Sean McGrath. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Richard Maxson.

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  1. says

    What a rich background you have, Richard.

    I’m so pleased you did not abandon poetry, even after that awful remark by your teacher, as if poetry could only ever be one thing. That’s a narrowness of mind that kills what spirit and soul need.

    I’ve enjoyed the poems you’ve shared here at TSP. As your essay shows, you write beautifully.

    • says

      Thanks, Maureen. I started college very late, so my skin was a little thicker than if I had been 18. But you’re right, it was not very encouraging at the time.

      As if poetry should ever be so singular. isn’t the point to see the world differently at each stage of life.

  2. L. L. Barkat says

    Intriguing! :)

    You know, of course, that since you said this…

    “For many years I earned my living as a technical writer for software development, but poetry continued to feed me.”

    I am now wanting you to write something for us about Poetry at Work 😉

    • says

      Uh-oh! There are times (like the last two weeks) when I am so distracted at work by things I would like to write.

      Early on in my tech writing career, I would have developers tell me, “this is not a #@$!!% novel or poetry. So it’s difficult sometimes to turn one thing off and another on.

      I will look at some examples of Poetry at work. I’ve notice the section in browsing, but never stopped yet for very long.

  3. Marcy Terwilliger says

    Richard, what a life of changes you have experienced, almost like living in a time machine. After reading this about you, your story, you have gained much wisdom from your life. There is a softness to your words, your eyes appreciate the light. You seem to be at peace with your soul. Write everyday, I do, it’s the only thing that makes me happy.

    • says

      Thanks, Marcy. My wife read the Time Travelers Wife and I saw the movie. It has seemed like that a little when I look back. It wasn’t all that great at the time going to Madrid at 15, leaving my friends in the USA and being in a school where no one spoke English. But now it does provide some rich memories.

  4. says

    I kept waiting all day to finish making split pea soup, peeling apples for pies and greeting trick-or-treaters so I could finish reading this post. You had me hooked with “I did not realize the poetry of my father’s hands.” A wonderful summary of a journey….the journey thus far, that is!

  5. says

    I stumbled upon this on Pintetest where I was collecting poetic lovelies. Richard, this is quite beautiful. The journey, the call of poetry, the sweet peace you make while going about living while poetry lies dormant. I so enjoy your poetry and well, now your prose.

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