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Occasional Verse: When Fay and I Got Married (Tulsa, July 6, 1986)
We frequently hear that most poetry, if not all, wears autobiographical undergarments identifiable upon intimate, invasive inspection, but one kind of poem displays its author's life with all the shamelessness of fashionable couture striding confidently along Oscar's red carpet -- the occasional verse.
Occasional verse memorializes a specific occasion, but many classic examples used such work to comment on larger social, political, or literary issues. Spenser, for his own wedding, used Epithalamion (1595) to honor all marriages with a "song made in lieu of many ornaments" (line 427). Milton wrote Lycidas (1637) to mourn the death of a friend, but his pastoral elegy exudes social criticism. Neither can one easily miss the cultural and political attitudes on display in Tennyson's Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852) or Kipling's Recessional (1897) written in response to the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria.
Event-driven poems at the other end of the quality scale, of course, do not achieve, or even pretend to achieve, such high distinction as those by Spenser, Milton, or Tennyson, but we write our poetry to our own occasions nonetheless. Particular events seem significant enough, if only to ourselves and family and friends, that we want to think about them on a higher level, try to understand them, elevate them outside the everyday context where we live most of our lives, and search in them for larger meaning.
So it misses the point when purists scorn common efforts to write occasional verse that invariably, miserably falls short of the ethereal standards set by Spenser, Milton, and Tennyson. The discipline of writing life stories in poetry encourages, indeed requires, a deeper, more focused reflection than most people normally give otherwise to their life-events. The poetic effort itself forces one to grow, to learn, to study, to use the dictionary (if nothing else), to read the poetry of others, to encourage others to write poetry about their lives.
By writing occasional verse that describes, explores, and ponders our special experiences, we put high value not just on our own individual lives, but on human life in general, and that result, I would submit, provides warrant enough, encouragement enough, for anyone so inclined to write as well as they possibly can about the most memorable events in their lives.
People often ask how it happened that a life-time Tulsan like Fay left Tulsa for Chicago with an inveterate wanderer like myself, then made me stay put for 25 years and counting. This poem doesn't explain the move, or my loss of desire to move every year or so, but it does describe some of its key aspects. Just one word in the poem is not literal truth, but it rhymed so well, and sounded so realistic, I couldn't resist using it. Can you tell which word that is?
In any case, I hope you enjoy the poem.
When Fay and I Got Married
(in Tulsa, Oklahoma, July 6, 1986)
When Fay and I got married in a Baptist church
in Tulsa on July the sixth of nineteen-eighty-six,
just two weeks later, sitting in the pastor's office perch,
I said to Brother Gilbert, "There's no job for me in Tul-sa,
so we are packing up our things and moving to Chi-ca-ga."
"Without a job lined up?! he asked, incredulously.
"Where have you tried so far to get a job in Tul-see?!"
"For one, applied at Hillcrest Hospital (the very site
where Fay first saw daylight in nineteen-forty-seven? Right!),
but Personnel got sick of me right off, and wrote me off."
I'd worked at Harvard and U.N.? Must be a liberal!
Could type a hundred words a minute? Must be homosexual!
Had been depressed from loss of wife? Must be a basket-case!
But still believed in sharing wealth?! Must be a socialist, or worse!
The pastor said, "But why Chicago, Max, so many miles away?"
I said, "I prayed, then called Chicago's university,
and they affirmed to me that there would always be
a spot for one who sounded like they thought themselves to be!"
He shook his head resignedly, and said, "At least, let's pray!"
And he invoked the Father's will and blessing on my way.
When I got home, after a quiet, loving meal,
I said to Fay, "I'll go ahead and get a job
and get things settled first, and then come back for you."
She said, "No way, Jose!! Not without me you ain't!"
(You claimed you wanted truth, and not with fiction's taint?)
(My middle name is "Joseph," but I'm not the saint.)
Fay called and quit her job by phone next day,
I broke apart the six-foot sign that told the world,
"Max HAV-lick School of PER-son-AL Cre-A-tion," yes!
"and World Ci-TIZ-en-SHIP," and stuffed it in the trash,
and in Fay's Pontiac we soon were on our way!
The rest, or as they sometimes say, is history!
We've never thought of going separately, not since that day!
The truth is paradoxical, my friends, and truly daunting:
if you're too fragile for this world, it soon will break you with its taunting.
They have another world all set for you if you can't take it,
but some have long delayed the day when they must "meet their Maker"
by meeting with Him every day as if He were their Friend and Teacher.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Max J. Havlick, Writers Workshop, The Max Havlick School of Personal Creation and World Citizenship, a project of New World Community Enterprises, Inc., 16 W. Vermont St., Villa Park, IL 60181-1938, all rights reserved (30 min. from O'Hare Airport). Permission granted here to make and distribute exact copies that include this copyright notice.