Tuesday, March 1, 2011

From Wrecks To Rex

As you’ve undoubtedly realized, I would rather confess my faults than force you to discover them on your own. In that spirit I will admit to having made what might be called a living as an advertising copywriter for three decades. Consistently cranking promotion that sells soap by the boxcar necessitates pimping one’s self out relentlessly; crawling deep inside the corrupt heart and soul of one’s prospect and carefully crafting messages exquisitely turned to play upon their primal fears and desires until at last, sheep-like, they waddle obediently to the check-out line where fleecing is easily accomplished.

But creating art, to wit, poetry, a memoir, two novels, hundreds of cartoons, is an almost antithetical enterprise. Pandering to the audience here is anathema, a hanging offense. Tell the deepest truth in a way that is your own, make it beautiful and elegant, hold nothing back. Earn your reader’s interest every step of the way. I have made this my mantra throughout all these endeavors and consequently they assume a committed reader – but – I like to believe that, while my work requires attention and occasionally – gasp – thought, I always deliver; it is always worth the trouble.

In poetry one finds language distilled until it comes as close to perfection as it will ever get. The absolute simplicity of universal truth, all extraneous vanities stripped away, mixes freely with the impenetrable obscurity of individual experience to create something at once deeply familiar and tantalizingly out of reach, yielding to endless interpretation.

In 1990 I wandered away from the smoldering remains of my third, and final, major manic episode and wrote the first poem I had written in many years. I irreverently refer to it as, “My life story in 55 seconds.” 


Born a prince
Raised in a castle
Mother was kind
Father was mad
A king not above
Eating his young

In order to survive I grew
Smaller, weaker, more bent
On self destruction
With each year
Then one crimson morning
Fate hurled me into battle
Like a spear

I lived in the company of demons
Marching through landscapes of terror
Villages burned, crows pecked carrion
Howls of lamentation blew through the air
Like madrigals and monks chanting prayers

Courage, an unknown flower
Grew from inside my despair
Compassion emerged from the darkness
Of my cruel and damaged heart

Miraculously I triumphed
And was awarded with the throne
Now must I become a righteous king
Wise, gentle, and brave
How shall I be it if I have never seen it?

Alistair McHarg 

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