Why I Write

In 11th grade creative writing, my poetry dissolved. The overwhelming crush of criticism and the realization that I had no talent stole my brain. When I tried to compose poetry, I threw up my hands with esoteric senseless gibberish. My first husband-partner-lover Scott was a poet. His poetry collection of Apricot was astonishingly clear. He filled each word with a fragrance. It was published in 1973. When he read in public, I knew I could never compete. He was the writer in the family. I was the accountant money-man. I let it go. I descended into the closet about writing.

When Scott died in 1989 after our 16-year tumultuous era together, my voice continued to be silenced. I could cry but I couldn’t express vocabulary. My growth emerged when I wrote my first going-away speech for coworkers. I followed with a birthday chant for my beloved work-friend Tessie. At Florence’s Chinese funeral, I did the eulogy. I loved the acclaim.  But I remained inadequate. My soul still felt vanquished with no voice. I refused to write about being gay. I couldn’t face being a sissy.

When I was hit with spirituality at my gay temple, I flashed upon doing a sermon. I spoke about Intimacy, Unconditional Love, Spirituality, and Do You Believe in God? I strutted across the bimah. I gripped the attention of the congregants. I waved away the boring aspects of ritualized religion. For the first time, I was able to integrate my gayness through writing.

When my friend Charlie insisted I go to a poetry workshop, I couldn’t even remember why I would be scared. Instead of crumbling, I horned in on the darkest holes. The shame I felt when I put my Scott into a hospice weeks before he died ripped the page. I was flabbergasted when I read this poem out loud. I shivered.

“Ashamed”

I believed in fidelity
My lover Scott didn’t
Together 15 years, like a married
Couple in our East Hollywood bungalow
We were the perfect couple
Except he slept with others.
Our friends and family never knew
Until Scott received the news in 1986.
Diagnosed with AIDS
Ashamed to admit to anyone
That he cheated on me
I never told anyone at work
I didn’t think they’d
Understand why I didn’t leave him
Or worry that I was sick
He was going to die and
I took care of him but I
Never told my boss
Never took a leave of absence
To spend the last few months with him
Remained in the closet about AIDS
During the last few weeks of his life
I didn’t take care of him
My therapist said
I couldn’t “handle” him dying in our condo.
Scott went to a hospice and two weeks later he died
I was left alone
Ashamed that I wasn’t with him until the end.

I was drawn to writing. I fretted about always searching for the worst. The blockage didn’t stop me from writing. It just scared me about being a monster.

I welcomed retirement without any preconceived bucket list. When I entered the “What is Your Life Story?” class at the Village, I was transformed into a writing machine. I took my life into a memoir. I exploded with “showing” and not telling in my prose. I had withdrawal when I didn’t write.  I exposed my secret sexual fetish. I shared my father’s hounding me about “walking straight.” I took my relationships under a blunt knife. I found pride in being a Sissy. I came out as a writer.     

 

Image at the top of the page: Iris 04″by jolynne_martinez is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

SELFIE INTERVIEW | BillYarrow

Bill Yarrow is a Professor of English at Joliet Junior College where he teaches creative writing, Shakespeare, and Introduction to Film. He is the author of five full-length volumes of poetry (ACCELERANT from Nixes Mate Books, AGAINST PROMPTS from Lit Fest Press, THE VIG OF LOVE for Glass Lyre Press, BLASPHEMER from Lit Fest Press and POINTED SENTENCES from BlazeVOX) as well as five chapbooks. His poems have appeared widely in national and international journals including PANK, Gargoyle, FRiGG, Diagram, Contrary, THRUSH, Poetry International, RHINO, Magma, Staxtes, and Levure Littéraire. His work also appears in the anthologies Aeolian Harp, Volume One; This is Poetry: Volume Two; and Beginnings: How 14 Poets Got Their Start. He is an editor of the online journal Blue Fifth Review and has been nominated eight times for a Pushcart Prize.

Eckleburg: What captures your interest most in your work, now, as a reader of your work?

BillYarrow: Precision. 

Eckleburg: What are you working on now?

BillYarrow: A volume of New and Selected Poems. 

Eckleburg: Who and what are your artistic influences?

BillYarrow: Books: The Castle of Perseverance, Petrarch’s Secretum, Truth is More Sacred by Edward Dahlberg and Herbert Read, A Private Correspondence by Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, Melincourt by Thomas Love Peacock, Opium: The Diary of a Cure by Jean Cocteau, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” by William Blake, I Am Not Ashamed by Barbara Payton, Project for a Revolution in New York by Alain Robbe-Grillet, Life of Johnson by James Boswell, Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire, The Letters of Gustave Flaubert, Paul Gaugain’s Intimate Journal, Life and Death of Mr. Badman by John Bunyan, Max Havelaar by Multatuli, Jacques the Fatalist by Denis Diderot, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres by Hugh Blair, Life of William Blake by Alexander Gilchrist, Mercier and Camier by Samuel Beckett, The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld by Peter Handke, Waste Books by G. C. Lichtenberg, A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel, Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Niebla by Miguel de Unamuno, Spring’s Awakening by Frank Wedekind, Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert, Richard II by Shakespeare.

Artists: Everyone.

Movies: Too many to list.

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