January 20, 2023
Thanks to Thomas Wells, HMU alumnus, for today’s blog.
I recently published a book of poetry: Complexions of Being, which was inspired by my time at Harrison Middleton University. I graduated in 2019, and my study at the university played an integral role in motivating and shaping the poetry in this book. To explain how this happened, I will describe my foray into poetry.
During my childhood, I was exposed to stimulating dinner table discussions focused primarily on politics and current events. Indeed, my family even kept a complete set of the Great Books of the Western World on our bookshelves. Nevertheless, when I was accepted into the doctorate program at HMU in 2013, I did not know what to expect from the curricula and its learning approach of shared inquiry. I was about to embark on a journey where brilliant minds of the past would come to life.
I was retired when I enrolled at HMU, so I had a great deal more time on my hands. Little did I know how my study would change my quest for knowledge. Almost unconsciously, I went from seeking answers to important questions to arriving at plausible insights that raised more questions. I adopted a new relationship with uncertainty. I was more secure with it.
Of course, my study also gave me an in-depth examination of the ideas of some of the most important thinkers in western civilization. These thinkers came to life for me as I engaged in a dialogue with them. If you are an HMU student, no doubt none of these observations come as a surprise.
At an earlier stage of my adulthood, I experimented with writing poems. In my twenties, I became modestly successful in writing and finding small press publishers for my poetry. In 1982, a small press publisher published my poetry chapbook titled Native Steel. The book also included photographs that I had taken and selected for it. However, I was to learn just how difficult it is to sell your poetry if you are not well known. To be sure, this was very disappointing, but it really was the pressures of my career that led me to abandon my poetry- writing entirely.
Decades passed, and I occasionally would feel the impulse to return to writing poems, but nothing ever came of it. It wasn’t until after I graduated from HMU in 2019 that I picked up my poetry-writing pen once again. It may have been the freedom that retirement gave me that served as an impetus for writing. However, the tutoring, readings, and writings of my six years of study at HMU propelled me to write like never before.
All the poems in my latest poetry book were written from 2019 to 2022. Undoubtedly these poems reflect a maturity that can only come with age. But many of these poems do something else. They ask searching questions. They grapple with mystery and wonder. I attribute this sensibility largely to my study at HMU, where I learned the value and power of shared inquiry. About a third of the poems in the book were previously published in the last two years. As I began writing and submitting my poems to poetry journals in 2019 after such a long hiatus, I was pleasantly surprised to find many editors eager to publish them. That prompted me to consider creating a book manuscript.
There was also another important way my study at HMU informed my poetic muse. As I created new poems, I would often reflect on how some of the great thinkers might look at the same issues. For example, some poems allude to Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare. The very last poem in the book is titled “Sky.” The poem metaphorically references the character Prince Andrew from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, as he lies on his back surveying the sky during the Battle of Austerlitz.
My readings of the Platonic dialogues offered me a greater appreciation for seeking the truth, and I have tried to convey this in my poetry. This is because I think we live during a time when there are many people in power who, like the sophists of Socrates’ era, tell us that there is no truth and that there are alternate facts. Like Plato, I believe this poses a grave threat to society.
Thematically, some poems address political topics and matters of social justice. Other poems are deeply personal and introspective. Still, others offer humor or hope. Though I believe that poetry form and structure are essential to the craft, I find protracted discussions about them to be boring. I’d much rather allow the reader to discover for themselves what brings them pleasure in my writing. However, I will note here that the book contains free verse, rhyme, and sonnets.
There are a few of my poems that have drawn upon my study of the natural sciences. My HMU study of Albert Einstein resulted in my stumbling upon the well-known quantum mechanics concept of quantum entanglement. Einstein referred to this quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance,” and although he could prove it mathematically, he dismissed it. However, physicists since Einstein have proven its existence.
Quantum entanglement can be briefly described as the phenomenon occurring when subatomic particles influence or participate in dimensional proximity such that the quantum state can only be described as unified. This includes when the particles are separated by vast distances. Entangled particles can sometimes exhibit perfect agreement so that the position, motion, spin, etc., are identical even when they are separated by trillions of miles. I found this concept so fascinating; I wrote a poem titled “Spooky Action At A Distance.”
While I am eager to get my book into readers’ hands, there is another important point to be derived from my experience. It is a lesson I have learned through my creative output, which I had abandoned for so long. You must never give up on what you love. You can take your HMU learning experiences and reinvent yourself, regardless of your age!
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