Editor’s Note: On the April Senior Scene page in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News, Bayview CEO Nancy Weinbeck  wrote a column, "The power of poetry for older brains." This piece was written by Wallingford resident in response to that.

People often associate the writing of "real" poetry (poetry as literature) with poets who die tragically young. Keats and Shelley both died before they were 30. Thomas Chatterton killed himself when he was 17. Wilfred Owen, perhaps the greatest English war poet, died at 25, a week before the Armistice.

But for every poet who died tragically young, one can think of poets who lived and wrote well into their senior years: Wordsworth was 80 when he died, Tennyson was 83, and Frost, a whopping 88.

Maya Angelou was 86 when she died in 2014. Antonio Gaimoneda, arguably the best Spanish poet of the age, is still writing brilliantly at age 90.

I am 78, a resident of University House (retirement home) in Seattle, and an actively practicing and publishing poet. I just returned from a festival in Punta Umbria, Spain, and will return to Spain in July for voces del extremo, another, larger festival in Moguer. More than 30 of my books (many of them poetry collections) have been published. One of my publishers (IronTwine Press) called me "the most accomplished writer most Americans have never heard of."

It is great that there are old people who dabble in poetry, who enjoy it for its creative possibilities and whose poems are remembered and celebrated by friends and families.

It is also great that there are old poets who continue to write and publish in their 70s, 80s and beyond.

Here is a poem I read to the Seattle City Council a few years ago. I offer it as tribute to all poets, amateur and professional, young and (especially) old.

 

The Reception Line

 

Last night, I dreamt about Aunt Percy,

the spunky alcoholic I so loved for

being who she was-- funny and flawed.

Leaving a bar one night when she was young,

she rammed her car into a backroad bridge abutment,

then made her way in heels to the closest farm

and called the police, complaining that someone

had moved the bridge. Aunt Percy, old, was in my

dream’s reception line: she offered apricots:

cold and sweet. Aunt Percy, I said, you look

wonderful. But thin, she said, and it wasn’t good.

A question came up: someone in the family

needed immediate help. “Don’t worry,”

I said, which is almost always a mistake.

I think dream-talking with the dead may be

a sign my own death’s not far off, and

there’s not much time left for me to tell it

like I think it is, which is the farthest

honesty can take us while we breathe.

And in the dream, I spoke to my father,

and was glad to see him looking well.

The last real time was in a Scottsdale hospital:

I went in as soon as the nurses were done

with bathing and shaving and feeding him.

Garbled as he was, he got out my name and

rumbled something about “feet” and “cold.”

I rubbed his feet till he signaled me to stop,

left a picture of my mother by his bed,

and walked back to his nearby empty house,

meaning to return after lunch. I was

hardly in the door when the hospital called…

In the dream, my father, too, was standing in

the reception line: he looked happy and

healthy. I said I was glad to see him. Then,

I added, speaking from someplace deeper than

memory, “You’re my father, among other things.”

When I woke up, I knew: my father’s love

was like a ship and the ship wrecked and

went down and wood floated to the shore of

the island of my life, and I picked up

all the timber I could and used it for

fires when the nights were cold. Now I’m

awake, a day older, aware it doesn’t

matter when we die what we had, only

what we did. Whether you know it or not,

you may, like me, be so close to the edge,

your feet are beginning to get cold.

Your dead, too, may have formed a reception line--

and so many in our family need immediate help.