Tag Archives: poet

Carl Sandburg and My First Poem

Carl Sandburg portrait

Carl Sandburg portrait by William Smith, 1959

I had no idea who Carl Sandburg was when my distant and pretty cousin led the way on horseback from the stables along a mountain trail to Connemara, a goat dairy farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina. My father had brought our family to nearby Hendersonville to visit a favorite cousin who owned a restored antebellum restaurant and inn. We ate supreme southern cooking in the historic restaurant but stayed overnight in the cousin’s home. Their sophisticated daughter was put in charge of showing me the sights. We matched ages at fifteen.

Connemara home

Connemara

The horse trail emerged a distance from the goat pens and the dairy barn to the back of the owner’s residence. There was a low picket fence to keep out the goats. Mrs. Sandburg was a celebrated goat breeder, and she operated this premiere goat dairy farm from 1935 until her husband’s death in 1967.

Goats at Connemara

Goats at Connemara

My cousin halted her horse at the low fence and addressed an elderly man who was sitting in a high-backed chair on the long wooden porch. He had a stack of magazines at his feet, and he put down a copy of Look Magazine when she spoke to him. It was clear to me that he recognized her as a neighbor child, and I was introduced as a visiting cousin. Mr. Sandburg’s face was angular and his frame had the narrowness of hard labor. His shock of parted white hair seemed somehow biblical to me. Maybe the Old Testament Moses looked like him.

We were not offered to dismount, so the conversation was brief, and it ended when Mr. Sandburg said something like, “I guess you best be going,” and the Look Magazine was brought up to cover his face. In 1956, as young teenagers, we were not offended as we turned our horses and rode away.

Later in high school, I was taught about Carl Sandburg and read a few of his poems and excerpts from his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. He also won two additional Pulitzers for his poetry. Much later in my life, while doing post-graduate literary work in Sweden, I became aware that Mr. Sandburg was the son of Swedish immigrants to the United States.

Carl Sandburg bw National Park Service

Carl Sandburg

When I met Carl Sandburg, I was saying that I intended to become a medical doctor, and that intention continued as I entered the University of Virginia. But my ambitions changed, and I became a writer of novels, biographies, and poems that include the libretto for a classical music oratorio.

At some mature reflective moment, I realized that I had composed my first poem on the day after meeting Carl Sandburg. I had no literary goals at age fifteen; and being unaware of Mr. Sandburg’s greatness, I could claim no porch-front benediction from him. Nevertheless, I wrote an honest expression of the heart with no anticipation of writing hundreds more.

Many years later, I brought my wife Pat to Flat Rock and took the National Park Service tour of the Sandburg home and grounds. In the attic of the house was Mr. Sandburg’s reading retreat, and there was a straight-back chair amid piles of Look and Life magazines. Outside the house, I took the opportunity to stand at the back porch and recite my first poem to Pat. It is still the only poem of mine that I can recite spontaneously from memory. So wherever you are, my sweet and endearing cousin, thank you for that horse ride into poetry.

Connemara lake with Sandburg photo

Carl Sandburg’s home

        AFTER AN ACQUAINTANCE

                          by Monty Joynes

 You meet and then you part.

 An empty feeling grips your heart.

You’re sure a friendship

Could have grown,

If time had ceased and

You had known

A love so true could

Make you cry.

But a bit of your heart

Did die

After an acquaintance.

 

 

 

 

 

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What every lover should know about the creative artist. Part Three

The lover in Monty's case is Pat

What can lovers and friends do when they recognize a creative artist in their midst?

The young person struggling with artistic impulses is vulnerable in the formative years.  Without the maturity of craft and experience, the need for lessons, coaching, and educational support is essential.

In fact, the artist’s need to learn and explore never ends.  The creative person remains an avaricious student their entire life.  Formal education is often too structured and limiting for the impatient potential artist so guidance is important at this stage of development to assure a good background.  A painter who does not understand the history of his art form will always be limited by what he or she does not know.  A novelist who has no critical perspective of his genre is destined to mediocrity.  Many localities offer special programs for the gifted and talented.  Acceptance in their educational program should be the goal of the creative aspirant.

By the late teens and early twenties, the creative personality will do well to find a mentor, an older person in her artistic field who can serve as teacher and advisor.  Mentors open the door on the real life of what it means to pursue art.  The struggle and the compromises of adult life become evident as art as a profession is revealed.  Most acolytes of art never progress beyond this stage.  Although they do not choose the sacrifices of the artist’s life, they can become an especially qualified audience for appreciation of the art form.

Beyond the early stages of recognition of talent and the acquisitions of basic education and skills, the creative artist needs an opportunity for growth and refinement.  Since it is usually impossible to earn a livelihood from purely artistic productivity, practical compromises must be made.  The natural urge toward marriage and children further complicates the equation.  Families are required to make significant financial and lifestyle sacrifices if they are to support a creative artist member.  It is a difficult role to play because it is easy to see the artist as a selfish, willfully exploitive human being whose personal interests outweigh the comforts and concerns of the family.  If dedication is a prerequisite of the artist, it is also a necessary quality of his or her enduring family.

If the goal of the lover can be the same as the artist—the consistent completion of artistic work—then the lover and the artist can take joy in the productivity.

You may have noticed in this blog that entries will try not to become gender specific because the blogger is male.  In a general commentary, the pronouns will often alternate between paragraphs.  As a man with three daughters and five granddaughters, the blogger intends to be as gender inclusive as possible.

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What every lover should know about the creative artist. Part Two

Author Monty Joynes at the dining room table writing longhand the old fashioned way

Many people have passions.  The passions may have a multitude of focal points, but the goals are always fame, money, and power.  A part of the creative artist also wants materialistic rewards; however, she finds herself unable to position herself for them.  She cannot be at peace doing commercial work or by repeating past efforts as a sop to critics and the buying public.  Repetition is artistic death.  No matter how economically and socially comfortable success can be, creative energy is lost in the seduction, and the artist can become impotent if she cannot deny the circumstance and retreat into the truth of her own reality.

The creative artist hopes for recognition, but he must deny it emotionally if he is to grow and fulfill his potential.

The creative artist believes in her own work although she is unrecognized or severely criticized.  Her worst fear is that her talent and craftsmanship are not equal to her passion.  What if nature has given her the drive but not the talent to create something of value?  What if her environment, and her own weaknesses, allow her only to produce mediocrity?  Many, many are given the will to art so that the few might achieve.  Countless sperm struggle toward a goal so that one might succeed and procreate.  That is nature’s way.  All artists must face this reality and conquer self-doubt every day of their creative life.

The creative artist believes in his product although self-doubt can torment him and keep him off balance and depressed much of his life.

It is the emotional dichotomy of unavoidable passion for creative work and self-doubt exacerbated by an unsupportive marketplace that makes artists seem eccentric, strange, or even ill.

Many occupations are means to an end.  But the creative product is the end for the artist.  Financial security is the means, not the end to the creative personality.  The value and fame that the society places on the work is a consequence of the work and not the goal of the work.  History demonstrates that much of artistic value was created by people who died in poverty and struggled during their lifetime for the opportunity to be creative.

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What every lover should know about the creative artist. Part 1

If you have ever lived with one or loved one, you know that the creative artist is a complex character seemingly devoted to emotional contradictions.  For hundreds of years, writers, painters, sculptors, composers, and musicians have made self-defenses of their passions and life styles.  The efforts extend pity to paradox, and the divorces and estrangements continue from age to age.

 There are many common elements of the creative personality that form a syndrome of their peculiar malady.  If the disease can be identified and isolated, perhaps there can be an understanding of the behavior of the patient.

 First of all, let’s define what we mean by a creative artist.  The creative artist creates a body of work.  The definition is not dependent on whether the work is published, produced, or performed.  Each piece, long or short, must be completed, however, and a compilation of past and planned projects must demonstrate that serious work is being done on a continual basis over a period of years.

 An individual who writes one novel, one play, or one symphony and then quits because the work was not accepted is not a creative artist.  The creative artist cannot quit no matter what his circumstance.  If the society condemns his work, he will become furtive, go underground, but he will nevertheless be productive.

 You can identify the creative artist by his persistence to produce work in spite of poverty and rejection.  There may be very productive periods and very unproductive periods depending on circumstances, but the creative artist is always working at his art.

 Pretenders at being creative artists can talk for hours about their plans and ideas, but they will have no continuum of finished work to show for all their talk and emotion.

The creative artist has finished work to show.

The creative artist creates in spite of all financial and interpersonal obstacles.

 The creative artist may perform other occupations.  She may even do commercial work within her discipline, but no work outside of her creative production satisfies her.  If happiness can be defined as inner peace and tranquility, the creative process is her only real, unqualified joy.  No matter what emotions were involved in the arrival at the creative moment, beyond the anger and the tears.  The moment of creation is pure delight.

 If your artistic friend seems moody and distant at times, it is because he is in the creative process.  He is experiencing the withdrawal symptoms between bursts of creative energy.  He is a creative junkie waiting for the next fix of creative juices.

The creative artist can experience unqualified happiness only in the solitary moments of the creative act.  She is often inept emotionally outside of that experience.  When she is concentrating on a large work, she has little or no energy left for other activities.  That’s why she flops into bed and sleeps for ten hours at a time.  That’s why she watches too much television and ignores the household chores.

 The creative artist has an innate drive and passion for his art that is genetic.  A long evolution has produced him.  He is programmed by nature to express himself in literature, or marble, or with musical instruments.  Often in his lifetime, he will wish that he could cast off the impractical yoke of this insatiable desire, and some fight it to their own mental and physical destruction.  The will to art is not always a welcome passion.  It often seems to the individual a cruel joke that denies choice and free will.

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