Lauren Cooper, BFR Managing Editor
I can’t forget the day I met him. Surrounded by books from my mother’s shelf, I leafed through page after page of white and black. Reading was, and is, like air to me, and that day I breathed it in without hesitation. Shakespeare and Shelley drew me into their complex worlds of love and nature, Neruda showed me some of his favorite dreams, and I reveled in the woods created by Frost. But I saw nothing of me in the poems I read until, turning the page, Allen Ginsberg stood with his hand outstretched, ready to lead me to his Supermarket in California.
I began to skim, tired from my journeys and wary of entering yet another poet’s world, built of words and punctuation. But as I read, I breathed fresh air. Choppy lines filled the page, and syntax flowed to the beat of an unheard drum. Dialogue filled my ears, as Ginsberg talked to Whitman, Whitman to bananas. He spoke of life and time, how neon fruit and grocery boys have replaced the simple past; he asked the world at large what the future would bring. And I listened. I shared in his uncertainty and echoed his honest questions. In the midst of his stream of consciousness, I glimpsed myself.
Ginsberg asked where the past was hidden, where the next step might lead. I looked into his eyes and answered, who knows? His questions were my own. He had spoken the thoughts that I had yet to verbalize, and in that moment I knew that I, too, had something to say.
I had never written much poetry, preferring analytical essays to emotional poems. But, with his talk of peaches and penumbras, Ginsberg inspired me to search for an answer to my questions and his. He had shown me that poetry could be as true as not. An imagined world of neon fruit could speak volumes about reality; it could recall the forgotten past. Unsure of how to begin, I simply started to write, letting the words guide my hand and give me the answers that my mind alone could not create. Unformed thoughts spilled onto a blank page, as black ink lay down next to the white. I wrote of nostalgia: radios and an analogue watch, the how-do-you-dos of woe-be-gone days. I wrote of dial tones and handwritten letters, of memory’s persistence, as moving pictures marched through test patterns and static. Soon I had an answer, a finished piece, a world that we had created, Ginsberg and me.
And I knew that I was a writer, a purveyor of truth and fresh opinion. One simple word piled upon another and another had captured an image, a part of my soul displayed to the world and ready to be understood. It came in waves, then—the anxiety, the vulnerability that comes with making that leap, with allowing my soul to be read like a book. What-ifs echoed through my mind as I fussed over commas and capitals, for each letter had a purpose, and each letter could bring failure if it were read the wrong way. Yet, if Ginsberg had done it, then so could I. In him, I had found a kindred spirit. Perhaps someone else, someone far and away, might find one in me.