Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, Guwahatian Magazine (India), The Galway Review (Ireland), Public Republic (Bulgaria), The Osprey Review (Wales), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey) and other magazines. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs
(Photo: Carol Bales)
Poetry Can Create Friends with Little in Common
I have an accidental friend with whom I have nothing in common except one interest that prompted our original exchange of emails. That interest is poetry but poetry itself isn’t important at the moment. What’s important is his most recent email which illustrates how two people so different can still get along—at least electronically—when they have a love of poetry in common. We have never met and it’s unlikely we ever will. But that’s not important either at the moment.
My friend writes that he has been watching U.S. athletes compete for a place on the Olympic team that goes to Brazil to compete against athletes from other countries. He says they “are giving their all to represent our country in Rio.” He also says the Olympics are about “peace and security.” I wish I could agree with him on both counts and I hope he is right.
I think, however, very few athletes in any country go to the Olympics to represent their country. I would make an exception for professional athletes already well known and rich from their labors who may indeed want to represent their country. But “peace and security,” certainly noble goals for anyone, strike me as being far from the mind of most, if not all, Olympic athletes.
Some people engage in sports for fun but athletes do so to win. In an age where cooperation is needed and desirable, athletes compete. It’s their reason for working so hard in their preparation for months before the competition.
I say this as someone reared in a neighborhood where athletics were the currency of acceptance in adolescence. There were natural athletes and there were the rest of us. Because of the culture in my neighborhood I wanted to be good in sports. I had no interest in being a chess champion or music prodigy, two areas in which my skills would not have made either possible. But in sports, some sports anyway, one can do fairly well even with modest gifts if those gifts are developed with practice. It comes down to how much one wants to succeed as it does in most aspects of life.
I remember playing for the school football team in eighth grade. I was a lineman. I thought I could play football in high school and chose to go to a private high school, a “football factory” with good academics, that had won the city championship three years in a row. I thought I could play for them. I was six feet tall already but when I went out for the team I saw a lot of guys six feet tall who weighed 40 pounds more than I did. They were linemen in the raw in need only of coaching. I was Ichabod Crane out of my element trying to make that team.
I finally realized I was too skinny so I quit football and took up basketball, a sport new to me. Not much time to learn. I made the team but hurt my knee and couldn’t play until later at a small college where people at my skill level competed as hard as they could. We didn’t do it with the hope of one day making a lot of money playing as professionals. We never thought of the Olympics. We did it for one reason—to play well and to win.
One either has that desire or one doesn’t--not only in sports but in other aspects of life as well. And to this day, decades later, I’m not certain who is better off, someone locked into sports or someone who, like my email friend, prefers chess or music instead. Yet two people so different can still love poetry and do their best to write well, succeeding at times and not so much at other times. As in life, revision is a necessary component for any kind of success.
It was tough competing in sports where there were many natural athletes better than I was but I loved it. And I think playing ball helped me later in life when I had to compete to get and keep jobs I didn’t want but had to have in order to pay bills. I ran into disappointments playing ball but I learned to keep playing. I don’t recommend this route for anyone else. Those for whom sports is the right road will find it on their own. But, in retirement now, I have to say it was the right road for me.
I always had book smarts but I think sports helped me as an adult to want “to win.” And by winning I simply mean earning enough money to handle responsibilities. I don’t mean being the boss, although at times I had people reporting to me. I mean simply going to work every day. That can be a tough assignment. I could have done without every job I ever had if I had inherited a big estate.
If I didn’t need the money I would never have worked, although I admit the same spirit I had in sports often drove me at work. But most of the time I was competing with myself. Often it was simply a matter of not giving up.
My electronic friend, with whom I share this deep interest in poetry, would have no interest in competing. And I am happy for him in that regard. Cooperation is what he prefers and in retirement I prefer that also.
In writing I don’t compete with anyone but myself. I’ll revise forever and maybe still not get it right. But I think it’s possible to compete and cooperate at the same time. I think both are necessary for some people to succeed in life if they want to eat, work and recreate without interruption.