As I make my way into the writing world, I have been asked by friends and family on more than one occasion what made me start writing poetry. How did I come into this craft? When did I become a poet? I like giving the answer, because it pays homage to a dear old friend of mine whose own writing talents and genius frequently go unnoticed and unrecognized.
His name is Francis F. Keating.
I met Francis when we were teenagers, both of students at Dillard University, an all-black college in New Orleans. He was the cool dude on campus, sporting a bandana and an earring when it was not fashionable for guys to do so. He loved listen to hard rock, which was in stark contrast to the hip-hop and R&B that was the preferred choice of music for everyone else on campus. Francis was our resident Arnold Schwarzenegger, both in his commitment to lifting weights as well as the square line of his jaw, so like the actor himself. He liked serenade unsuspecting girls on campus when they passed him on their way back to the dorms, if for no other reason than to surprise them and amuse himself. People gravitated towards him because of his easy, laid back energy, big smile, and quick wit. The great thinker on our tiny campus, Francis was a blue-jean philosopher, pondering lofty questions about life among the mighty oaks of the quad.
He was not your average black guy.
But if this was not intriguing enough, Francis was also a poet—and an extraordinary one at that.
The first poem he ever shared with me—one that I will be sharing with you shortly—impressed me not only because of the voice and style of his verse had such an old-world, classical sound, but also because the content of his poem was so profound. He didn’t write about teenage love and woe—like I did—or anything artificial or superfluous, like the sound of rain drops falling haplessly in a myriad of colors while sheep walked by or something innocuous like that (and thank goodness too, because as we all know, that shit gets on my nerves…)
No, Francis wrote a poem that talked about the nature of God, who He was and man’s fruitless search to find Him, only to realize that we ourselves hold the keys to finding the God we seek.
We are the God that we are looking for.
And he wrote this poem when he was fifteen or sixteen.
When I read that poem, I was blown away. Francis’ phrasing was elegant and lyrical, and used a rich rhyme scheme to tell his tale. The message of the poem was unique and thought-provoking and spawned conversation; many times later he and I would discuss the nature of God, church, and religion and its relevance in a modern society. Further, Francis told a story through his poem and…well, we all know how I feel about that.
It’s not a stretch to say that after immediately reading that piece of writing, I really didn’t think I had any poetic talents at all. But my good friend, ever humble, was also encouraging, and would push me to write. He became a good editor for my burgeoning works, and even better, he was a great sound-board for ideas. And so I would write, he would encourage me, and lo and behold, my own writing began to strengthen and grow.
Of course, Francis knows of all of this already. What he doesn’t know is that secretly I would aspire to write poetry like him. I was completely beguiled by the thought that poetry could have such great depth, brilliant rhyme, and touch a broad range of emotion.
I didn’t have to write the archetypal “teenage angst” poetry.
I could write something richer, more intricate, more profound.
And so, with my friend at my side, that’s what I set out to do.
Fast-forwarding through the years, my writing would come and go. Life, as it often does, frequently got in the way: I got married, had kids, set upon my professional career as an educator. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, as Francis and I got on with our lives, we lost touch.
But you always remember the people who impact your life. In the times that I would aspire to write, my friend was never far from my mind. When I’d sit at my computer late at night, a tentative stanza here or there flashing on the screen, I’d wonder to myself: What would Francis think of this? Would it be up to par? Would he give me grief about the rhythm? And what about this rhyme scheme—would it pass the test of his critical ear? (Francis is very particular about rhyme—no mother goose rhymes for Mr. Keating!) It was against his work that I would measure the quality of my own…usually with little success.
However, years later, when we would eventually reconnect (ironically, it was for the purpose of writing a book) he’d challenge me to write poetry, and I’d think to myself, there’s no way I can hold a candle to what he has written.
And yet, the idea that I could match his skill with a pen or that I could be as equally profound with my themes presented a challenge, and so I began to write my own poems. Of course, there were hits and misses, but in my quest to match his great talent, I like to think that I developed my own. Always looking to write a little more, to write better, to be better, I created a collection of poems that is still growing even today. Clearly, I have my own style and my own strengths, but at the end of the day, there’s always a nod to Francis and his work, whether he knows it or not.
This is how I became a poet: trying to keep up with Francis.
Of course, this is a whole lot of build-up for two people who might be good writers only in their own minds. Other people might actually look at our respective works and think we write like shit—who knows?
But what I do know is this: that I have a friend who to me is a phenomenal poet, who has been my great inspiration, and it’s because of him that I am on this course. So I thank him for it.
And although I don’t have that big or great of a following yet, or that my first book isn’t flying off the shelves as I would hope it would, I do know that in addition to his support, I have benefitted from the encouragement of other writers and authors who have helped me by getting my name out there through their blogs and shout-outs to their fans. So that now, for my very dear friend who imagined my potential long before I saw it, for my buddy who believed in me, for my writing partner who matches my inclination for all things dark and twisted, the very least that I can do is get his name out there and share his work with you.
Francis is going to post a series of poems on my blog for the next few weeks.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
And so, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to…Francis F. Keating.
“AND ALL FLESH SHALL SING TOGETHER”
Forged in the midst of greater men
Stood the image of a man
Torn knuckles cringed in fury,
The Bible brass in hand.
Its head through time decapitated,
Ideas gone with his land—
But ‘neath him lay a pedestal,
Dead visions of the man.
“The Lord is coming!”
Words so sacred buried in the stone.
No signs, no thoughts, no reasons why,
Just chiseled breath and tone.
And minds enslaved ten thousand years
By Gods unholy bride,
Soon broke there chains,
Beheld the world,
Unveiled man’s hidden lie.
New opened eyes!
There is no God to save us from our sins.
No prophets’ lies
Nor revelations judge the souls of men.
And when we look upon
Such tattered trophies of our past,
We bear in mind our own reflections
Gods beheld at last.
COPYRIGHT 2012 © FRANCIS F. KEATING. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.