Rites of Passage

By James Hall

Copyright 2000 by James Hall

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Editor's note: This is an excerpt
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I have been writing since about age 12. My first efforts appeared in school newspapers, and in the Yale Literary Magazine. At various times, I have written non-ficiton, fiction, poetry, stage plays and scripts. I have published a lot of poetry, here and there; my first book is on the way. I have won several awards and prizes. Two short stories have reached print, one in the Yale Literary Magazine, one in The Writer’s International Forum.

I was an editor of The Yale Literary Magazine during my Junior and Senior years. After graduation, I followed advice which Thornton Wilder once gave me. He recommended teaching as a way to pay the bills while learning my trade as a writer. I taught French and Spanish at several school, one public, the others private.

Tom McMahon, who was Editor-In-Chief of the Lit, kept asking me when I was going to stop fooling around and write something. Tom took a post greduate year at Yale with Robert Penn Warren as his mentor. Once, when I visited him at Yale, he harrassed me into writing a short story which he pronounced well-seen and worth polishing. I went on teaching for thirteen years, writing something occasionally.

My fluency in Mandarin Chinese landed me in an off-the-wall military intelligence venture in Korea, from which I have written a couple of short stories, and may work on a novel eventually.

 In the Sixties, when Timothy Leary and his cohorts convinced kids to tune in, turn on and drop out, I left teaching for a different, more lucrative avoidance strategy; I became a programmer/analyst. This lasted twenty years. When downsizing struck, I gave up avoiding the issue. I have been writing ever since.


As I readied these poems for publication, the title sprang full-blown from my forehead. The poems span the years 1940 through 1999, years in which I did many things other that write poetry. The Muse kept harrassing me, however, and a number of poems appeared.

These are not the collected poems. There are many more which I have lost along the way, some of which I remember imperfectly and wish I had kept a copy. They are not even selected poems. I grabbed a bunch of manuscripts and put them in an order which was and is mysterious to me. Yet they seemed to belong that way.

The ordering brought forth the title; “Rites of Passage.”  I began to see my life as a continual rite of passage. I have always been wary of rites, and of those who take the rite for reality. In a sense, every rite is a poem and every poem a rite. Further, a rite moves one from one state of awareness to another.  Some state of awareness along the way may turn out to be enlightenment. One hopes these poems might do as much.


                                                                                     James Hall

                                                                                      Pueblo, Colorado

                                                                                     May 2000






                             Ars Poetica


                    Poetry knows that the wave

                    which splashes the rocks in Connecticut

                    once was stirred by the oars

                    of a Phoenician galley lying off Sidon.


                    Poetry is the forgotten

                    lore of a long-dead wizard.

                    Words on a crumpled parchment,

                    meaningless, or magic.


                    Poetry lurks in the barberry

                    border between sleeping and waking.

                    Red berries, guarded by thorns,

                    inedible, almost unnoticed.


                    Poetry upsets the trial balance,

                    is neither debit nor credit.

                    The accountant shouts at his children.

                    An owl hoots, unheard, in the bay tree.






After the Storm


          Having digested what it can, the sea

          spews on the beach all inedible parts

          of the ship, odd bits of sealing wax,

          left-over cabbage leaves, a fragment of

          the lost king's crown.


          It is not likely anything we salvage

          will help us reconstruct the world that was,

          or build a new one. If the wind

          is not too strong, perhaps some bits of this

          will make a fire.


          This beach was not our landfall. How we came

          to be here, dragging flotsam from the surf,

          is best forgotten. Our arrival

          was only a departure from what was, at first,

          our destination.


          This small, green bottle, empty now of rum,

          stopped with a bit of wax, could hold a message.

          Reverse the chart, which now is useless;

          the blank space there has room for words enough,

          but in what language?











                Spring Tide


    A poem is an urgent message

    stuffed in a bottle, thrown in the sea.

    Perhaps it will ground on a beach

    where someone speaks the same language.


    A boy with a sling-shot

    is always patrolling that beach.


  Purpose:  Many people have pointed out that writing poetry is not a good way to make a living. Some have suggested writing advertising copy. I ask them, which way is more likely to let me find the sound of one hand clapping?

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