Behold, a Poem From My Youth

Athena ScalziSomeday (hopefully) I will be a famous author, but in the meantime I thought it would be entertaining to show you all a poem I wrote when I was sixteen, because someday these will be lost relics of my youth! Before you read it, just know it’s not actually about anyone or anything I experienced first hand at the age of sixteen. Also, at the time I wrote this I was under the impression all poems I wrote had to rhyme. Seems kind of silly now but I still kind of prefer rhyming poems.

And finally, I’m not sharing this because I think it’s good. I know it’s pretty bad, but I wanted to share it anyways because I think it’s important to look at how you used to write, and compare it to how you write now. It’s important to look at the past and be like, hey this isn’t really that good, but at least I know I’ve improved since then!

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the poem:

God, I can’t take this pain,

What do I even have to gain?

I can’t see through your lies,

From the tears blurring my eyes.

I’m sick of all this hurting inside,

And think of all the times I’ve cried.

You say you love me more than anything,

And want to give me a diamond ring.

But I don’t think I can take it anymore,

My heart is just too broken and sore.

All those nights I would’ve rather died,

All those times I’ve sadly sighed.

But, god, I love you, I love you, my dear,

But darling, love, I have this fear.

One day you’ll leave me for someone new,

And then, oh god, what would I do?

There’s a difference between forgiving and forgetting,

And you’ll mess up again, I’m betting.

Do what you want, though, I can deal,

I’ll just have to ignore what I feel.

You can lie and cheat and break my heart,

But I still don’t want to be apart.

Your words burn like fire against my skin,

But when I see you I always grin.

Darling, I love you, I just want you to know,

So please, my love, don’t let me go.


25 Comments on “Behold, a Poem From My Youth”

  1. Every now and then I run across something I wrote 50 years ago. I even submitted a couple short stories (I’ve also still got the rejection slips). I shudder, I sigh, I put them away again. It’s good to remember how I was, and what the long strange trip has made of me.

  2. Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing poetry is ‘easy’. It’s hard work no matter what form you prefer. I used to enter a company-wide ‘bad poetry’ contest and even writing stinkaroo poems is hard work ;-) Keep writing!

    PS the best way to ‘test’ your poem is to read it out loud. (Poetry is best listened to.)

  3. “Seems kind of silly now but I still kind of prefer rhyming poems.”

    So do I, in large part. I appreciate the effort and control that it takes to operate successfully–I hope!–within the constraints of rhyme and meter, whenever my Muse hands me an idea (which is, alas, far too seldom). I like being able to meet that kind of challenge, and also to read the work of others who have wrought similarly. (I’m reminded of watching gymnasts perform. The exquisite motions, combining freedom and iron control, are exhilarating (and awing).

  4. I took a college poetry course, starting with Gilgamesh, where we didn’t have to take themes or symbols or allusions. Another college poetry teacher said, “Then you were taught right!” I say this because that sort of course greatly helped my prose writing.

    As for rhymes, never mind the literary snobs. There is a girl’s T-shirt out of Japan that goes, “I like what I like, so get off my back!” Nearly all of the poems I’ve memorized rhyme. (Perhaps the only exception is the one about the red wagon) I did most of my memorizing on the Greyhound bus.

    On my blog this summer I did a piece called “poetry matters” because the English curriculum is going to drop poetry because of covid. So the BBC did a piece interviewing teachers who valued poetry. I am sure most of the BBC staff, even the hard-boiled reporters, agreed that poetry matters.

  5. I agree with Stuart Herring slightly up-post. I appreciate and enjoy the craft that goes into creating great rhyming poetry. That said, if you DON’T want to use rhyme, that’s cool, too!

    Just today I came across some papers I wrote in college back in the 1980s. My writing is serviceable but I see that I had a simplistic attitude towards many things. I’d like to think that if I wrote the same papers today, my approach would have more nuance and would reflect more experience of the world. Hey, just proof of growth, hooray for that!

    Lay more poetry on us whenever you like :)

  6. I still have some fondness for some of the poetry I wrote in high school (50 years ago!) and the ONE short poem I wrote IN FRENCH when I was in my first year of collage. Sometimes, writing poetry is a good mental exercise. It does teach you discipline!

  7. The advantage of rhymed poetry is that the primitive part of our brains thinks statements that rhyme are important. Magic spells generally rhyme, and political slogans — even my sisters’ jump-rope games were always accompanied by rhymed chants! A sentiment like, “Pity me that the heart is slow to learn/ What the swift mind beholds at every turn” (Edna St. Vincent Millay) wouldn’t be at all affecting in plain prose!

  8. I would , actually , offer up Martha Wainwright to your perusal .

    She is almost criminally forgotten, but her music is a beautiful thing, most of it about her youth. Please pay little attention to Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, I don’t wish to think of your father as such.

  9. Regarding being embarrassed about rhymes: There is a list of good reasons, which I forget, as to why modern poetry doesn’t rhyme.

    Every Sunday I’m in a free fall poetry cafe (now virtual) where we compose poems on the spot and have time to read one aloud. Sometimes the spirit moves me to gallup along with a rhyme. Then I sense one judgemental guy being silently annoyed at me, but the other poets are quite pleased. They have been known to laugh and clap. Mostly I write non-rhyming, like everybody else.

    As for folks discovering poetry, it occurs to me that the rhyming sort is more accessible, like how you aren’t judgemental when folks start their comic reading with Batman and Superman. The Dark Horse and indie comics, and that one that won the pulitzer, will still be there waiting, but if they don’t start with the easy stuff they may never start reading comics at all.

    Note on pacing: Just as the trick with comics is to look at the art first, and not rush along from word balloon to word balloon, the trick with poetry is to slow down and read with attentive enjoyment. Novelist Jeanette Winterson was saying that the reason the classics sound so good on the radio is that we hear it slowed down to proper speech speed. To often, in our regular reading lives, we read and skim and rush as if we were in a hurry. To paraphrase her: Good poetry, like cats, do not wear watches.

  10. Rhyming and meter are two forms of redundancy which preserve poetry from loss in transmission. When you think of the Iliad as entirely transmitted by memorized recital and the fact that it was kept fairly unchanged over generations (likewise the Eddas, Gilgamesh, etc. back when written copies were very expensive and rare) it’s no surprise that they have become embedded in culture.

  11. Athena, that was a bit of painful reading, but you know that we all have horror shows like that in a shoe box in the closet. While it is a bit of a pin in the hand to pull them out and read them, they let us know where we were as a poet. Keep them, rather than run straight to the paper shredder with them. You have improved in your writing style, and the man with the failing hair will soon have someone to reckon with, I am sure.



    PS I was raised by and taught by old people, and I will use periods with my nieces and nephews because you said it was mean of us, and use them often………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

  12. As I did when John posted a song from his teenage band, I applaud your younger self for exercising its creativity, energy and emotion in a constructive way. There you are, imagining the situation in which you might forgive a lover, an important exercise. With some of the comments above, I say we all have to start somewhere, with writing, with love, you name it. We know precious little when we’re born. I also think poetry would be much more popular if poets went back to rhyming — look at rap.

  13. Nothing at all silly about preferring rhyming poems! I love and admire well-crafted poetry that rhymes, though when I turn my hand to it the result is inevitably a writhing, tortured travesty. If you ever have need of a SERIOUS dose of humility (or to indulge your sense of awe), I submit that Grey’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard is a master-class in rhyme … as well as structure, metaphor, and utterly gorgeous, vivid imagery.

    Also, I think it’s great to go back and look at things we wrote when young, and see what we’ve learned. Thanks for sharing yours!

    Have a good Labor Day, Athena (and all two-legged and four-legged Scalzis, too!).

  14. Side note to JS:

    Started reading the lyrics to your concept album WITHOUT reading the introductory paragraph above. Got maybe 4 songs in, before thinking something to the effect of “Wow, I believe JS may have listened to as much Pink Floyd as ***I*** did, back in The Day!”

  15. JS: Well, I can’t fault your taste in music! For me, it was WYWH and Animals. Some of the lyrics on Animals still blow me away with their devastatingly scathing societal portraits, writ in such simple language:

    “And after a while, you can work on points for style
    Like the club tie, and the firm handshake
    A certain look in the eye and an easy smile
    You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
    So that when they turn their backs on you,
    You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.”

    Rock on, Team Scalzi!

  16. “Seems kind of silly now but I still kind of prefer rhyming poems.”

    I myself prefer formal poetry. By that I mean not a poem in a Tux, but verse that uses a fixed form. Some of these include rhyme. Some do not. Some include fixed meter, and some do not. But all i8ncluyde soem kind of regualr form that acts as a constraint on the work.

    One form i am fo0nd of is the Sestina. This has six six-line stanzas, with the end-words repeated in a carefully permuted order, plus a three line finale that uses all 6 words. This has an affect simialr to rhyme, but not quite the same.

    An example:

    View from the Shore (DES 2004)

    Above the lake, the angry clouds are ranked
    Darkening the day with threats of rain.
    Below, the wind has raised up little waves
    Marching, row on row, towards the shore.
    And on the farther shore, the trees are seen:
    Near black between the lake and cloudy sky.

    The light attempts to pierce the veil of sky:
    The near clouds part, but not as clear it’s ranked
    For through the hole, more clouds can yet be seen
    To further emphasize the chance of rain.
    I look out, from the slope above the shore
    And watch the day, the clouds, the little waves.

    Perhaps no storm impends, because the waves
    And not so large and strong; because the sky
    Includes the front-lit clouds; because the shore
    is dark but clear, and where the trees stand ranked
    their outlines are not blurred by sheets of rain
    but clearly can their silhouette be seen.

    There is more here than that which can be seen.
    Not only on the water are there waves
    A spirit can be drenched – or cleansed – by rain;
    Be bound to earth, or flutter through the sky.
    Now shall I be with fools or wise men ranked?
    And shall I drown, or safely swim to shore?

    And what shall be there waiting on the shore?
    The future, I should know, cannot be seen
    It can’t be safely filed and neatly ranked
    Times changes come upon one as great waves
    or tiny ripples. A light may pierce the sky
    only to be masked by pouring rain.

    I know that over fate I do not reign.
    Only a fool believes the future sure,
    Regardless of the world; thinks that the scene
    His fancy paints, is writ upon the sky.
    I daresay I shall not with such be ranked
    All title as a prophet I shall waive.

    What have I seen within this stormy sky?
    And In the waves that endless lap the shore?
    Times are unique, not ranked, each holding sun and rain.

  17. I’ll join the chorus of approval for rhymed poetry. Rhyme & meter are indeed redundant features which protect against loss of signal, as noted by D. C. Sessions above. Not only that, rhyme is invaluable for the historical linguist in reconstructing phonological (i.e. audible) similarities and differences between words which may not be obvious from spelling. Pronunciation is quite fluid between geographical regions and over long time scales. Spelling, on the other hand, is much less subject to change since the invention of large-scale printing technologies.

    Example: the 1739 Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The word come is rhymed with both Womb and Home, suggesting that in 18th-century spoken English, all three words ended with the -oom sound.

    And this, from the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (c. 1400):

    “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, …”

    In Middle English, soote and roote would have been pronounced, approximately, “SOH-tuh” and “ROH-tuh.” Nowadays we say “sweet” and “root.”

    Another way of bringing redundancy to poetry writing – and to prose writing as well – is the use of alliteration, assonance and consonance. There’s a lot of that in Shakespeare: “All that glisters is not gold.” In carefully calibrated quantities (heh!) it’s a good thing. Too much can be annoying. As Dana says, reading the piece out loud is the best way to tell.

  18. Speaking of Pink Floyd? Syd Barrett’s lyrics were chockablock with internal rhymes and assonance. From memory:

    “Astronomy Domine” – Floating down, the sound resounds around the icy waters underground

    “See Emily Play” – Put on a gown that touches the ground. Float on a river forever & ever, Emily

    “Bike” – I’ve got a bike, you can ride it if you like, it’s got a basket, a bell that rings and things to make it look good. I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it

    “Arnold Layne” – Arnold Layne had a strange hobby. Collecting clothes, moonshine, washing line. They suit him fine

    Even after Barrett’s departure from the group, echoes of this persisted in their later compositions.

  19. David Eddings once said that you have to write out all the crap before you can get to something good. He claimed that for him it took about a million words.

    So congrats on working towards something good!

    Seriously tho. As you said, the poem certainly isn’t “good.” It’s filled with cliches and the stereotypical angst and intensity of a sixteen year old. But it also *is* good, b/c there’s nothing wrong with teenage angst and intensity. It’s cliched because it’s a universal phase we all go through. And heck, bands have made their living on precisely this. With a few edits, Amy Lee from Evanescence could be belting this out in no time.

    But it’s also good b/c you were expressing your truth as best you knew it at the time. That’s what writers do. And every considered word you write is one word closer to expressing your truth in a more powerful way.

    What you are writing now is positive proof that what you wrote back then was well worth writing.

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