Writing Poetry Around The Age Of Twenty

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When I became “serious” about writing poetry around the age of fifteen, I thought it was only a matter of time before I was discovered for the genius I was. My example was Rimbaud, the visionary French poet, discovered in his teens, celebrated by the literati of his time, some of whom -- literally -- fell in love with him; one of them even shot him in a pique of passion. Rimbaud’s light burned bright, he took Paris by storm, seized his world and made it his oyster, set it on fire, and painted it red.
Almost as quickly as he ascended, Rimbaud burned out. Fame and adulation wasn’t worth the price of his vision. He gave up poetry, left Paris, ran guns in Ethiopia, imported coffee, and became a legend. His works are still read today. Works of
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I even had a “one-man show” in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1986 – albeit, in a booth I purchased at an art street fair. Preparing for that show killed my interest in painting, although I still have a handful of them. (Three of my paintings hang in our Brooklyn house because my wife and kids and an art framer friend thought them worthy.)
There was an earth sculpture wherein I moved a pile of dirt from one location to another, an installation in a field behind a friends farmhouse made from discarded plumbing fixtures and farm machinery, and a performance art piece in a gallery in Cooperstown, NY, that featured a mime, Jacques Cousteau, and Harry Belafonte in a surrealistic dream-of-consciousness dialogue poem. If I wasn’t a genius, who was?
By the end of the decade, I had a few poems in magazines, was part of the Hoboken poetry scene at Maxwell’s and Café Elysian, and self-published several chapbooks of my poems under the l’etoiluna press. With a few friends, I started a writing group called the Decompositionalists – our work was decomposing rather than composing, like the society around us. (Deep, man.)
The common denominator of the work I produced back then? It sucked. I was neither a genius nor a savant about to be discovered by a patron and rocketed to fame and fortune. I’d fooled myself into thinking I was what David Galenson calls a “conceptual innovator.”
Would that I’d
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