Where the poem comes from: David Surette
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Continuing my very sporadic feature that feeds my curiosity--maybe yours, too?--about how a poem comes to be written, here’s one by David Surette from his new collection, “The Immaculate Conception Mothers’ Club.” I’ve had the great pleasure of reading with David once and of hearing him several times.
David lives in South Easton and is a frequent feature in and around the Boston area. His two previous collections are “Young Gentlemen’s School” and “Easy to Keep, Hard to Keep In,” which was named a "must-read" at the Massachusetts Book Awards. His poems have been published in literary journals including Peregrine, Off the Coast, and Salamander and appear in the anthologies French Connections: A Gathering of Franco-American Poets and Cadence of Hooves: A Celebration of Horses. He has been a co-host of Poetribe, a contributing editor at Salamander, an instructor at the Cape Cod Writers’ Conference, and a contributor at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference.
One of the Sisters of Notre Dame,
my mother's second grade teacher, was telling
the school kids about the value of books.
They were to be loved, covered, and cared for.
My mother saw her opportunity
and bragged, "My father is a bookmaker!"
He was, and he figured the odds
on happiness with a woman
who struggled with happy
and sad, and he left her, and
my mother and her brother
(who wasn’t his)
to be split up,
foster homes and relatives’ arms.
He died at 95, good news for my genes.
He hadn't seen my mother since she
was 24 and appeared at his bar to show
him how well she turned out,
pictures of my brother and me as proof.
He had already cashed out.
We didn't go to the wake or funeral,
and we go to everyone's.
We figured the over and under of whether
it would make my mother happy or sad
and skipped it.
In describing how this poem came to be, David says, “The poem was inspired by one of my mother’s many stories. She is a great story teller because she uses humor and language to reveal the sadness and poignancy of moments in her life. The humor is in the word bookmaker which she, as a grade schooler, took as meaning an author or publisher of books when, in reality, her father was a bookie.
“It became a poem when I decided to use the language of gambling to tell the rest of the story, suggesting we live by figuring the odds, the over and under, when to stick and when to fold and cash out. We also have to admit there is chance. Why else did my grandfather do what he did, abandoned my mother and her mother, closed off his life from her and his grandchildren, finally dying never reconciling?
“Gambling is seductive because it combines the rational and irrational so by using its language I want the reader to feel what my mother may have felt and later figured out about her father. The poem is set in the Irish-Boston-Catholic world that I mine for much of my poetry and so far is rich in inspiration, imagery and poetry. I also am aware that the poet is a book maker too.”