I was sitting in my home office, writing, when Spencer brought me a poem to read. It was for a school assignment, and he wanted my opinion. Spencer was around fourteen at the time, I think; maybe younger. Although he asked for my opinion, perhaps more than that, he wanted my praise. Since I am a poet as well as a journalist, he knew I would be pleased that he had written a poem.
When I read the poem, it was so bad I think I might have asked Spencer if it were a joke. I know I hurt his feelings. The poem was nothing but rhyming clichés; it said nothing honest about Spencer or his understanding of the world. Spencer knew better than that! He’d written better poetry in kindergarten. He had forgotten what real writing was.
When I realized I had hurt Spencer’s feelings, I gently explained that a real poem expresses your true inner self. I pointed out the ways in which Spencer’s poem expressed only things he had heard elsewhere. It did not come from within. I explained that a poem does not have to rhyme; it is more important to write your own unique way of thinking and seeing things. I told him to go back to his desk and write a real poem.
Some time later, Spencer came back and gave me his “Blackberry” poem. It was so amazing, I thought he might have plagiarized it. So far, though, I’ve never found it published elsewhere, so I think it is his own.
To me, the transformation in his writing epitomizes what happened to Spencer as a young man. He had the soul of a poet but to fit in socially, to protect his fragile feelings, he wrapped himself in the clichés and cruelties of youthful culture. When Spencer died, he was still trying to fight free of this caustic web.
Boys are just as sensitive as girls. They hurt as easily. They dream as much. But in our society, it isn't "manly" to be sensitive. "Tough it out," boys are told. "Shake it off." I wish Spencer had been told to write more poetry instead.
by Spencer Seupel
As a blackberry falls
Off the edge of a cliff
At the end of a long road
By the city in a cloud
You may hear a soft whir
That you think not of twice
But if you desire to listen to it
Instead it’s a voice, strong and clear
A mother wrapping her newborn
In sheets of fine linen
The needle and thread sewing
The dress of bright red
And the unfathomable excitement
Of the white gown strolling down
Down the red carpet
The happiness and sorrow
The love and the joy
From the first lick of air
To the last peaceful breath
Is the magnificent journey
To the city in the clouds
Where we will all go
To watch the blackberries grow