Why would a retired philosophy professor be writing poems? Why would he not?
I have been writing poems for fifty years or so, with no idea of publishing them. I wrote them when something struck me, as I tried to bring some vague experience into focus. I wanted to record what was going on with me. In some, I just wanted to get an experience down on paper. I wrote them and stuck them into a manila folder I kept in my desk. I didn’t show them to anyone for years. The folder went with mementos of other sorts into a box as I emptied my desk for the last time at retirement.
I put a date on most of the poems when I first wrote them. Others, I did not. In this collection I left the dates on or estimated when I finished a given poem. For this volume I divided the poems into early poems and recent ones. That division is a bit arbitrary, but occurs around 1975. When I dated a poem then modified it later, I sometimes entered the later date. There is no implication that later poems are better than early ones.
I reread them once every year or two, and began to believe that some were pretty good. That means they did what I wanted them to do, which was to capture some experiences that were interesting to me, and in some cases to clarify the experiences. A few years ago I decided to share them with people whose opinions I valued.
Among the people who have read a given poem, some like it and some do not. That has left me to decide which poems to include in this small volume. I rejected some of the poems I might have included. Occasionally I second-guess myself on that.
Independent of whether I, or anyone else, like them, there is a distinction between liking something and judging whether something is good. I believe I can distinguish the good ones in most groups of poems, with the exception of my own. There, my judgments vary considerably. Some days I think as a group, they are pretty good. Some days I wonder why I ever saved them.
Most of these poems do what I wanted them to do. They capture what I was trying to preserve, and in some cases to penetrate the experience. They cause the same feelings and thoughts in me that had inspired them, even decades ago. They still move me and I hope you respond to them too.
These poems let you see the world from my perspective to some extent. Can poetry do anything other than this? If it can, I do not know what that “anything other” is.
I think most poems are more effective if read out loud. These are no exception.
Many of the poems deal with death. That is a respectable topic for a philosopher, a poet or anyone else who wants to understand this crazy disease called life, and not simply to get through it with as little thought as possible. Death to me is a concern, but not a preoccupation. I meet death occasionally for lunch, but we only talk about trivial things. We’re not really good friends, but we tolerate each other.
Sometimes I joke. Sometimes you cannot tell whether I am joking or not. Neither can I…sometimes.