What follows is the beginning of a lecture I presented in February 2014, at the Graves Lecture Series at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska. It is entitled, “Poemhenge: Poetry on the Rocks,” and you can view the lecture at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X40H4uNEeMk&feature=youtu.be
I do believe my students must think I have rocks in my head with all the poems I feed them. And they might be right. But like those massive, mysterious bluestones, those enormous boulders that found their way to Stonehenge 5,000 years ago, I sometimes wonder how mine arrived.
I guess it started with a kite when I was eight years old. A kite stuck in a tree. A kite I wrote about after being knocked down by a neighborhood bully. I remember the pain, the struggle to get up and once I did, how he slammed me to the ground again. And though the pain was excruciating, what hurt most was my pride. Being singled out by this guy, the taunting – the embarrassment I felt in front of my friends.
A few days after the incident, I saw that winged kite, struggling to get free from the tree in front of my house in a town called Braintree – Braintree Massachusetts. From my bedroom window, I stared out at the tree, at that kite, and for the first time, wrote a poem. I learned at early age that when I wrote, the pain went away. I had tapped into a healing place, a place within that I would return to over and over again throughout my life.
To paraphrase poetry therapist John Fox: “Poetry is a natural medicine. Writing and reading poems is a way of seeing and naming where we have been, where we are, and where we are going with our lives.”
One of the goals of poetry therapists is to help create a safe environment for their clients. Geri Chavis and Lila Weisberger, co-authors of The Healing Fountain, help trigger poems from their clients by asking questions like: Where were your safe places as a child? Where are your safe places now?
I often return to the safe places of my childhood with poems.
This is one I wrote entitled, Light Years Ago.
Light Years Ago
by Rich Kenney
In a time when neighbors built bomb shelters
I found one already set up, my safe haven,
beneath a row of wire questions marks,
below sleeve and pant crease, way back
beyond PF Flyers and a loafer’s loose penny.
With Captain Midnight’s flashlight pen, I sat
for hours in my closet on a heisted milk crate
crammed with comic books, reading baseball
cards and Bazooka Joe bubble gum strips.
Behind my uncle’s hand-me-downs,
I stashed an old cream cheese jar
filled with tree house keys, fishing lures
and a few of my father’s beer cap tops.
It was the one time I had answers…
sitting there in the black until
the pen went dead, sitting there
with a glow-in-the-dark Jesus
and a pale dry bottle