I had been writing for a while before 1995, but I really didn’t have much of an idea of how to go about it. Sure, I knew how to write; I knew the alphabet and how the 26 letters fit together to make words and how words grouped together to make meaning, but I hadn’t been able to transfer that knowledge to good writing.
Looking back, I see that the problem wasn’t based on what I knew or didn’t know; rather, my problem was based on intention and understanding who my audience was.
I was trying to write what I thought people wanted to read, when I should have been writing what I wanted to write or would want to read. How I was writing was hampered by why I was writing. I was writing for so many wrong reasons. I was writing to make an impact; I was writing to be impressive, to get noticed, and to make money. With those goals in mind, I was always writing what I thought others wanted to read.
That all changed in 1995. That was the year that I began writing what I wanted to write. I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 poems and songs since, and every time I’ve written what I wanted to write. What’s more, those first three poems, while maybe not the best work I’ve ever done, are among my most important. None of the rest would have happened if I hadn’t written them.
In May of that year, I moved back to West Virginia after having lived for a while in North Carolina. I was beaten by the whole experience; I’d gone to North Carolina to become less of a punk, but, sadly, that didn’t happen.
Still, I had some good things going for me. I had at least discovered what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to write. I had also found a job that I was good at: I was a bartender and I had encountered few better. The problem was that I was meeting too many bartenders.
That was all many moons ago of course, and in that time I’ve done some good writing. A lot of what I’ve written since will be published down the line. Still, writing aside, I haven’t published much or earned much because my drinking was in the way of my success for so long. Now that I’ve gotten a decent handle on sobriety, that’s all going to change. It has already begun.
My name isn’t going to be a household name in every house, but it will be in some of them.
“Correspondence with Charlotte, NC” was the first of these three poems, written in August of ’95. When I had left Charlotte in May, I had done so under the pretense that I was going to regroup back home for a while and then return south. I can’t say that I believed that would happen, but I hoped it would enough to tell my friends that that would be the case. By August, I realized I would not be returning, and I wrote this.
“Correspondence with Charlotte, North Carolina”
I hope you get this letter
sent by heart so fond.
I hope you stopped by Freedom Park
to skip a stone in the pond.
I hope you had nice holidays,
upon your lips a smile.
I hope you find your home
in this life of time and miles.
I hope you think of me
when you think of friendship dear.
I’m sorry time and purpose
allow me not to be near.
Please understand if, your company,
I cannot presently embrace,
But I have words to write, aches to mend,
and demons left to chase.
“Ziggle Zaggle” was the second of the three poems. I wrote it in December of that year. I had read some Kerouac, some Ferlinghetti, and some Ginsberg, and I wanted to channel some of that. I didn’t romanticize the beat nature of the genre as much as I did the respect to words and the attention to what they can do when put together in certain fashions.
As far as the beat philosophy went, I saw it as two-parted. The first part of it was the notion that life and the man had beaten down those of the movement; the second part was the “Why the hell not?” mentality that it birthed. I read On the Road, and I loved what I saw to be Jack’s central impetus. It wasn’t that life had beaten him and he folded, but that life had beaten him and, with not much to lose, he found he may as well just roll with it and see where it took him.
This poem was born somewhere near the crossroads of those thought processes.
Pride going not beyond the bounds of the jester’s,
being the inner child.
Days allowing not that the soul should fester,
between the righteous and the wild.
Feet do step, vibe does dance,
and booty sho do waggle.
Rage and bounce, project and pronounce,
waggle, wiggle, ziggle, zaggle.
Ziggle, zaggle, wiggle, waggle,
And all that lies between.
Celebrate life in your soul, my friend,
that’s how it was meant to be.
Celebrate love, and celebrate us,
your passions, and their harmony,
and ziggle and waggle and wiggle and zaggle,
and the very you, you be.
“Drinkslinger’s Lament” completes the trilogy. Written in the spring of ’96, I think it helped me finish the frame. “Correspondence” talked to where I had been, “Ziggle Zaggle” spoke to where I hoped to be,” and “Drinkslinger’s spoke about my acceptance of who I was at the time. I was a bartender, and, while I wanted to be more, I had proved to be pretty good at it and could make some decent money doing it. Plus, it mattered; like all bartenders, I saw my share of people who needed someone to watch out for them from time to time. I had no problem doing that; moreover, I took pride to care enough, when many of my peers didn’t.
I was also a problem drinker in the throes of his problem drinking, which made me the poem’s first audience and the first person who needed someone to watch over him from time to time. This came from that.
Tuesday is my Friday, and Friday is my Monday,
and days are nights and nights are days for me.
I’m sleeping when you’re working, and
I’m working when you’re sleeping;
pictures in a wallet remind of family.
The bottle’s never empty, nor is it ever full,
but just enough therein with one to spare.
Tales from tongues grow taller, and butts in trays burn shorter.
The register rings three-fifty, a glass of iced despair.
I’m the bartending man, I am, I am,
and the bartending man is who is me;
I’ll light you a smoke and laugh at your joke,
and bubble and bliss are all you’ll see;
but bubble and bliss are masks I wear
to hide my true identity,
for within me lies the hidden truth:
the glasses are drawn of misery.
Just those; not the greatest words a soul ever wrote and not the worst. They were enough, however, to get me going, and for that I cherish them so.
They also prove a great lesson in my drive toward sobriety–I have five years in now. Back then, a lot of the time I felt as if I was just ruining myself and my life. The writing that came out of it, however, shows that it wasn’t all lost time.
Thanks for reading, friends. You can find spoken word audio versions of these on my website, paulelmo.com, and my recent poetry collection, The Philosophical Verses (Vol. 1), is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle editions. I appreciate any support you can give these endeavors.
Love and best,