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What Happens When an 8th Grader Reads My Poetry?

Friday evening I was pinged by Nic Efstathiou, a cohort in the veteran writer circle. Like many of the people in this circle, I have to yet to actually meet Nic face-to-face, but we do enjoy a nice chat every once in a while about New England, music, or writing.


Expecting one of these sorts of messages, I was a bit taken aback when he said: “Hey, I taught one of your poems in my class this past week, and I thought you'd enjoy this response.” (Nic is teaching a Contemporary Veteran Poetry class.)


“This poem brings a sense of relaxation but something is lurking in the shadows. It reminds me of walking outside into my yard and staring at the open door of my dark shed. It’s as if something will jump out and scare me. At the same time the warm sun beats down on my face and warms me up like a blanket.”



I was floored to learn that such a comprehensive, emotional reaction to my poem was written by a young teenager. To know that they were picking up on the dualism and contradiction that are often infused into my poetry left me feeling elated, mainly because it was around that age that I, too, started to find my voice as a writer.


Their analysis of my poem wasn’t just some cut and dry, “Well this is how it made me feel. The End.” They created a story out of just a few lines. They injected hallucinations into my brain about what their backyard might look like. What the shed might look like. What creepy things might be lurking in the shed? (I am envisioning Arnold Schwarzenegger waiting to throw a saw blade through a terrorist's scalp, but that’s just me.)


I’d like to think that my work inspired them to create their own vision and to confront the dualities that lie in their observations of the world with curiosity. To me, writing (poetry especially) has always been about exploring difficult environments, inside and outside of our mind. I hope this young person continues to let writing be a playground for their imagination. Some day it may become a quarry that will allow them to unearth their most nebulous secrets.


Contact: The Valley of Debris

(Found in War... & After - The Anthology of Poet Warriors)


The endless miles of red sand—

Kicked up in clouds as the convoy weaves

Its way through the Valley of Debris.

The spotter notices an unfamiliar object—

It wasn’t there yesterday,

Or the day before.

Swerve, swerve.

The tires lose grip as the trucks lurch.

Throttles roar as the bomb explodes and

Tears off the rear quarter of the second vehicle.

Truck one stops hard and the security team dismounts.

Truck three is trapped.

The Commander is not a patient man.

No follow up.

Eyes are wide open.

Corners are scanned.

They feel the scopes of snipers on them.

The tow bar is finally attached.

“What took so long?”

An annoyed voice over the radio.

They got lucky this time.

His lack of gratitude affects morale.


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