For Two Aspiring Writers

 ‘Tis the season for graduation parties and this weekend I’m going to two – one for my college roommate’s son Dan and one for my cousin Leah’s daughter Kelsi.

Interestingly, Dan and Kelsi share something very precious in common – their love of literature.  Dan is enrolled in a Ph. D. program in English at University of Louisville and Kelsi will be majoring in English at the University of Chicago.  Both of them aim to pursue a career in the field of publishing – writing, teaching, and editing.

As a graduation gift, I got Dan the book Bread in the Wilderness by Thomas Merton and I included this note –

Dan –

As a poet and folk singer who digs into the “roots” of the literary and musical trees, I thought a book on the Psalms would be an appropriate gift.  The Psalms, in addition to being inspired sacred literature, are simply beautiful poetic and musical expressions of love and longing, fear and anger, exile and homecoming.

The author of this book, Thomas Merton, was a Roman Catholic convert who became a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani (not far from Louisville).  He wrote poetry and essays and became something of a spiritual guru for the bourgeoning hippie movement, as well as generations beyond.

I hope this book in some way inspires you to continue writing marvelously moving poetry and singing stories of beautifully flawed humanity.  You have a gift, Dan, and I pray you continue to put it to good use.


Tony Roberts

P.S.  As an added treat, I thought I’d include a poem I heard at a reading in Bloomington.  The poet, Frank Montesonti, wrote it about teaching creative writing.




I try to tell my students to use images:

                say, a piranha eating an apple

       or a piranha flying through the air

               and biting a woman’s jugular.


Maybe you could say that when the blood

sprays from the woman’s neck it looks like, hmm,

a red Chinese fan.


When I’m asked what a poem should be like,

I simply state the fact that a full-size cow can walk into a river

and a school of piranha can devour it in two minutes.

They work their way into the belly and eat out the soft organs.

Then the skin and head dance on top of the water.


Frank, do all our poems have to be about piranhas?

a student asks — the piranha.


No, no, not if you don’t want them to be about piranhas,

I tell her, of course


I really don’t see the point

of not writing about piranhas:

that moment when the water starts to break and pop

before the frenzy.

(“Piranha” is included in the book Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope)

image above “Graduation” from  Nina Perozzo in GradGather 

6 thoughts on “For Two Aspiring Writers

  1. I can’t say I’ve ever been to a class where the teacher said to write about piranhas. Although one did tell us we should write about…well, it was so uninspiring, I’ve forgotten what it was. I just remember thinking, “Nup, that’s just wrong.”

    Congratulations to both Dan and Kelsi! I hope they enjoy their graduation parties (I hope you enjoy yourself too, Tony.)

    • Writing teachers can be a strange breed. I’ve had some good ones, though.

      Dan’s gathering yesterday was quite nice. Now, we’re off to Kelsi’s.

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