October Recollection: "Apple Poems"
I wrote the first draft of "Apple Poems" while I was at WFU, the fall of 1974, taking Archie Ammons's poetry workshop. I don't remember Archie's reaction, but my French teacher, Eva Rodtwitt, the Intrepid Norwegian, pointed out that the poem employed synesthesia, a favorite device of Rimbaud and Baudelaire. In "Corespondances," the latter, talking of perfumes, said,
Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.
William Aggeler's translation:
With power to expand into infinity,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.
When perfumes "sing," synesthesia happens, so fasten your seatbelts and pass the absinthe. I want to sing of that "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," as Keats said in "To Autumn." Mellow, like that Memphis Sound, like Al Green singing "Love and Happiness," in A minor, backed by reeds and brass. (None of the Memphis saxophones were "rusty," but what I heard under the dogwoods was more organic.)
After I graduated from Wake, I discovered a poetry contest sponsored by the Charlotte Writers Club. I submitted "Apple Poems" and won first prize, fifty dollars. I went to the club's meeting, to read the winner and collect my check, and I met Ruth Moose, who wanted to publish my poem in her literary magazine, Uwharrie Review.
When I received my contributor's copy, I found my poem, but it didn't look right: what had been a skinny poem of 19 lines was now a chunky poem of 14 lines. How did "Apple Poems" become so short?
Ruth claims that I called her up and "blessed" her out. Did I bless out my friend Ruth? This was way back when a long-distance call was expensive—it was all land lines, children—so I must have been pissed. (I was living in Wilmington then, Ruth, in Albemarle.) I think I accused her of "squashing" my poem. She said she wanted to include the picture of baskets of apples below the poem to draw attention to my work, so she had to rearrange the lines.
I forgave Ruth a long time ago. Eventually, the poem appeared in my first chapbook, Picking Out, in 1982—the cover designed and illustrated by Ruth's husband, Talmadge Moose.
Lately, if editors ask to make changes to my poems, I usually say yes. They often make thoughtful suggestions. And, after all, I can always revise the poem again, if it's published in a book or online. I can change it back my version, dammit.
And editors always ask first. I guess they've heard what happened to Ruth.