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Arnie Yasinski: Debut Poet

Arnie Yasinski

Arnie Yasinski at the launch for ‘Proposition’, 23 Jan 2020. Photograph: Bryan Brophy

Getting to my first collection of poems: Proposition

Publication of my first collection at threescore years and ten (and one) achieves a long-term goal, one I thought I might never accomplish. To make a collection, you have to have the poems, and to have the poems, you have to have the desire to write them.

I wrote the first poem of my life at age 50, although I have always loved poetry, to the point where I have a Ph.D with a concentration in poetry. And I have taught poetry off and on for many years, focusing on analysis rather than generation. In a chat with an advisor during the break-up of my first marriage, I was asked what I wanted to be able to say I’d done in five years’ time. My answer, from nowhere, was ‘written some poems’. His answer was ‘what’s stopping you?’

What had me blocked was an overactive internal censor that consistently compared me to the greats and found me wanting. So, like the Nike slogan, I needed to ‘just do it’. My age also helped because I was pretty well past the age of embarrassment. So I put uneasiness aside, paid closer attention to my life, and wrote about 100 poems over the next eight years.

They didn’t just happen: there were workshops with well-known poets like Paula Meehan, Gerald Stern, Mark Wunderlich and Wes McNair; writing groups with friends like Peter Harris and prominent poets like Tony Hoagland; numerous readings and festivals where poets of all sorts read their work; the purchase and reading of dozens and dozens of books by contemporary poets; and my son bringing home two big cheques from poetry prizes immediately after I told him he couldn’t expect to make a living off poetry and would need a day job.

About 50 of my poems were published in various poetry journals over the eight years, and I learned as I went. I came to know that music was in my head—in nursery rhymes, in the cadences of speech, in rock and roll songs; I didn’t need to aim for some esoteric metre or rhyme scheme, although one sometimes resulted.

I learned to revise a poem 20, 30, 40 times. This was made easier by a computer, although the first draft was always on paper.

I then set poetry aside for painting for several years, except for wedding poems for each of my daughters—my first occasional poems. I retired to Ireland with my Irish wife and was almost immediately asked to join a writing group and then another. The special interest in literature here, especially poetry, was what I needed. I even developed and gave a workshop on experimenting with poetic language to aid in writing poems. I also began turning out poems again; people asked why I didn’t have a collection and one of them was the person who became my publisher.

Putting together a collection has parallels to writing a poem. The first draft comes from spreading your poems out on the floor and trying them in various combinations and orders, subject to numerous revisions, until it tells the story of a late mid-life crisis and the resolution of it. Then there’s working with the publisher on the type, paper, graphics, dedications and acknowledgements, followed by the printing and when and how to launch.

In the couple of years leading up to the launch, I have had a chance to write about 75 new poems, from which, God willing, I will get a second collection. For now, though, there’s Proposition—one man’s unsparing (I hope) look at his own life.

Arnie Yasinski was born in America in 1948, he now lives in Ireland with his wife. His first poems at 50 were inspired by a workshop with Paula Meehan at the Irish Writers’ Centre. Since then, he has published poems in more than four dozen U.S. poetry journals. This is his first collection.

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