Sometimes people enter our lives in unconventional ways, and touch us deeply. Daniel Paicopulos is one such person. He is yet another poet Walt and I met in 2009 at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides April P.A.D. Challenge. We share a great admiration of his work, but it goes beyond that. We hold Daniel in high regard as an exceptional human being.
Well, hang on to your hat, Walt. Your admiration is about to heighten.
On the sixteenth day of the 2009 challenge, while I was feeling quite intimated to be sharing my words with the talent Robert Brewer draws to his site, I suddenly discovered a poem that was written to me, about me. Daniel had written the following, which made me laugh, and swept me off my feet.
Clearly Marie Elena
that is so you,
“generously sharing light”,
with your see-through hue.
No Vivid Tangerine,
no gaudy Screamin’ Green,
no Purple Pizzazz,
who needs that jazz.
Poet, reader, fan
requires not even Tan,
our Marie Elena dear,
the one most clearly Clear.
(C) Daniel Paicopulos
This was penned in response to the “Clear” poem I had written for the Color Prompt for that day. It still humbles me beyond belief and, naturally, is one of my favorites of his. As with most poets, Daniel often reveals who he is through his poetry. I like who I see in his “A Missing Touch.”
A Missing Touch
What ever happened
A grandmother’s caress,
patting a fuzzy cheek,
a wayword curl;
young (and old) lovers,
hand in hand;
all so very public,
all so very sincere.
Well, 9/11 happened,
and AIDS happened, and
happened, and any number
So, let’s fight back,
resist the fear,
reject the nonsense,
get off that computer,
be back in love,
hug our neighbors,
kiss our spouse,
wrestle with children,
shake with both hands.
This touching thing,
too good to miss.
(C) Daniel Paicopulos
MARIE ELENA: Daniel, you are a true poet’s poet. What draws you to poetry?
DANIEL: My first love of poetry came very early in life, from listening as a child to the Torch Hour, with Franklyn MacCormack, on WGN and WBBM out of Chicago. He opened each show with his trademark, “How do I love you, let me count the ways. I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.” This led me to Ms. Browning, then to Mr. Browning, and eventually to other Victorian and Elizabethan poets. You could get records with poetry readings and I would get all that the library had. Our home was always filled with books and magazines, so reading came easy to me. My dad was also a music fan, and I think that some of the lyrics from the 1940’s were as poetic as anything from the great masters. In my late teens and young adulthood, there was the pop work of Rod McKuen, who was never fully appreciated for bringing young people to poetry, also to Jacques Brel and the like. In my post-Vietnam War years, I was actually somewhat aphasiac, and writing was my most comfortable means of expression, and now, as an older man, while I still take a stab at personal essays and the occasional short story, poetry remains my love, the vehicle through which I can say what I mean, in a way that my dearest friends refer to as blushingly honest and open.
MARIE ELENA: Rod McKuen. Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of him or read his poetry. I agree with you about him never being fully appreciated for bringing young people to poetry. Your admiration of his work “fits” you, Daniel “It doesn’t matter who you love, or how you love, but that you love.” Yes, quite fitting.
Getting back to your own writing, do you have any publications “out there” for our perusal (poetry or otherwise)?
DANIEL: There’s not much to speak of, poetry-wise. I was born in 1944, and when I was in college at Wisconsin and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I submitted a hundred or so poems to regional and national magazines, and maybe two of them were accepted for publication. When I find some old notebooks or journals and read what I write back then, I am amazed at even that height of success. I have always written, but usually for my own amusement, but I made an art form of personal letters and letters to newspaper editors during my 18-50 years. Additionally, my work required an inordinate amount of writing, usually begging for money via grants, and that spent a large part of my energies. After 50, I acquired a writing mentor, and she guided me in short story writing, but we soon discovered that I was more suited to personal essays, two of which were published in “Mature Living” and “Life After 50.” You can find them here:
I have many drafts gathering mold and mouse bites in drawers and binders, but I found the submission process to be so distasteful that I have never sent in a lot of what I write.
MARIE ELENA: The submission process is distasteful to me as well. Downright intimidating, really. So then do you write simply for the pleasure? Or do you wish to conquer the odious process to earn an income as a writer?
DANIEL: Since I am an amateur in every sense of the word, I have no wish to be paid for what I write. To that end, I self-published 3 poetry chapbooks, “One Peace At A Time,” Background Check,” and “What A Wonderful Day It Has Been,” but they are currently out of print, due to a computer crash. I had to do them at home because I do not sell them. I give them away, to anyone who is interested, having gone so far as to slip some into the stacks at Barnes & Noble, marked “free,” this from my former membership in Bookfinders, a group which left books in various places for someone –anyone – to find and read. Way fun to do. My family and friends are on me to recreate the three chapbooks, and to put some more together. As soon as we sell our two homes and settle in to our “forever home,” I’ll see about that.
MARIE ELENA: I’ll second the sentiment of your “family and friends!” And thank you for my copies. Oh my goodness, so wonderful, all! It’s such a cool idea to slip the chapbooks into the “free” stacks at Barnes & Noble. What else do you do to propagate the pleasure and future of poetry?
DANIEL: I know that there are an uncountable number of poetry blogs out there, and in my mind, too much is still not enough.
MARIE ELENA: “… too much is still not enough.” What a great line!
DANIEL: If you write poetry, or write a daily journal, I suggest a blog as a means of communicating with the world…it is amazing who finds you, and even more astounding that some of them actually like what you write. Blogs are also a great place to stash your work, so when one has the eventual computer crash and one does not have a 10-year old handy to remind them to back up their work, some of it, at least, can be retrieved. I also recommend another earlier invention, now becoming quite quaint, and that is the “letter.” I enjoy the thought that something I write and send will actually be in someone’s hands, smelling of me, maybe with a catsup stain or a tear, (or a tear). As I do with one of my favorite essays, “Natalie Calls,” I invite my friends and family to steal whatever I give them, make it available to people I do not know, and let me know the feedback, if any. One other thought is that we should all be supporters of young poets, and we can do that by attending poetry slams.
MARIE ELENA: Forgive my un-hip self, but will you please clue me in on “poetry slams?”
DANIEL: Poetry slams are like performance art, or similar to open microphone nights, in some instances. In other cases, they are well-regulated contests, where individuals and teams read to an audience in competition. I became intimate about them when I previewed a film for our big festival:
This is a great film, about people and youth and poetry, and I highly recommend it to you.
Keep your eyes open … I am sure that there are slams around Toledo. Where there are schools, there are slams. Careful, though, as some of the readings are quite angry, others sophomoric and vulgar … but, hey, it is poetry and who am I to censor?
MARIE ELENA: Thank you, Daniel. It is actually just as it sounds … “poetry slam.”
“I enjoy the thought that something I write and send will actually be in someone’s hands, smelling of me, maybe with a catsup stain or a tear, (or a tear).”
How unprofessional is it to keep repeating my guest? So many quotable lines on which to meditate … how can I help myself? I can try changing the subject. 😉 I happen to know you are unreservedly and eternally in love. Tell me about Barbara. I bet you can make me fall in love with her as well.
DANIEL: I am a man of many words, but none of them are good enough to tell you how I really feel about her. We have been together for more than 43 years, and, like swans, we have mated for life. On my bad days, she might call it a life sentence, but that is part of her beauty, and she makes an art form of how she lives her life. She is a gifted artist, in so many media: bronze and clay sculpture, oil and acrylic painting, jewelry and beadwork, fabric and sewing. She is a cat whisperer as well, and I swear she can do things in the dark of night to tame wild animals. In my career, I worked obsessively, and she kept me fed, even while working. Her most wonderful attribute, however, is her ability to soothe the savage beast, which includes waiting for me to calm after moments of temporary insanity. Here is my hope:
Hoping we’ll be old coots,
walking hand in hand,
less so from affection than
to help each other stand.
Hoping we grow old together,
sharing aches and ague,
passing gas without apology,
couldn’t hear that, could you?
Hoping we’re the ancients we love now,
some sagging, gravity the king,
my hair white, yours still red,
some vanity still reigning.
Hoping we’re the elders,
wise and otherwise.
Time remaining all that matters,
all arguments small-sized.
If that future’s not ours,
these days must fit our plans.
Let’s use them up completely,
in every way we can.
Let’s eat unwisely, sometimes
and drink more than is fair.
We’re not rich but we can act so,
at least one day each year.
Today’s that day, for certain.
Which other would we choose?
You’ll always be my Valentine.
You’ll always be my muse.
(C) Daniel Paicopulos
MARIE ELENA: Barbara is positively stunning, and apparently her beauty radiates to “soothe the savage beast.” In this world of egocentrics, it is refreshing to see the selfless, generous dedication and commitment the two of you share.
Some people’s spirits just shine so brilliantly, and yours is definitely one of them, Daniel. Do you see yourself in this light?
DANIEL: It would be pretty to think so, but I am enlightened enough to know better. It is true that the focus of my life now is more spiritual than ever, probably reflected in what I write. The truth is that I need to consciously focus on that path, since it does not come automatically to me. There are demons in me which remain, for a variety of reasons, and they percolate to the surface more often than I would wish. Since there are mirrors in our house, I know how I am, but moments of madness get redirected to good work as soon as I am able. It is an axiom, I think, that the best way to stop feeling sorry for yourself or upset about some nonsense or other, is to take care of someone else in need, so this I do. In everything I do, including poetry, I justifiably have a beginner’s mind. The problems of the world are so large and vastly flung that, to me, there is only one thing that everyone can do, and that is to light your own candle and hope that others do the same. I know that writer whose name I have forgotten wrote that “the sum of the lights” is all the good we have and all that we need. My 68th birthday is due soon, and too many of my lifelong friends are dying, and if that won’t lead you down a spiritual path, nothing will. I am grateful for the fact that there has been time with most of them to say what we need and want to say, to be with each other. Something I wrote comes from this:
One of us will die first, one left behind.
One of us will remain, it’s just the kind
of trap we’ve woven for ourselves, this spin
of the wheel, however we feel, it’s in
understanding this we can have the best
of our lives, this friendship thing, the real test
not in who dies first, in who longer lives,
but in the now moment, this is what gives
joy to the two of us, the daily win,
not in waiting for our lives to begin.
(C) Daniel Paicopulos
MARIE ELENA: “I vowed to never let friendship slide, to never let love go unspoken, not for a day, not even for an hour. Life today is filled with means of instant communication – cell phones, the Internet, faxes – excuses need not apply.” ~ Daniel Paicopulos
I have been a blessed recipient of this vow, as have many others “out here” who have never met you personally. Is there a story behind it?
DANIEL: That is from the piece I referred to earlier, “Natalie Calls.” Natalie was our neighbor and we enjoyed each other, but did not rearrange our busy lives to create a loving friendship. When we finally had made the time for a get-together, it was on the day when she suddenly and unexpectedly died, and after being upset for awhile, I decided to memorialize her in the simplest of ways. Whenever I think of or speak of a friend or family member, I realize that the one who needs to hear that I am thinking kind thoughts of them is not present. I also know that I can’t wait, since tomorrow is a fantasy. So I call, immediately if possible, or write or e-mail or visit. It is amazing how often they tell me that they were just thinking about me, and I have done this for so long now that they usually ask me, “is this a Natalie Call?” I have sent many people the original essay, and they have passed it along, and the stories I hear about other people’s Natalie Calls just fill my heart with joy, even the ones where sadness is reported.
MARIE ELENA: See? Selfless, charitable devotion spills and fulfills. This is the almost-68 Daniel. Can you give us a glimpse into the young Daniel?
DANIEL: You know my Wisconsin connection. I had a Huck Finn childhood, in a small village on a lake, 30 miles west of Milwaukee. We had the IGA grocery store, so we knew everyone, and everyone knew me. We were all poor, but we didn’t know it. At 14, my mother dropped dead in front of me, literally scaring herself to death, She had had rheumatic fever as a child and always feared a heart attack. When it came, she only made it worse. It was not my first connection to death, but it lasted in its effect, and I was angry for a long time. Still am, in fact.
MARIE ELENA: I simply cannot fathom watching my mother die at any time, let alone as a 14-year-old. How did you cope? Who did you lean on for help? You say you were angry for a long time, and still are. I imagine so. Is there something you do to help you work through it? Is writing at all therapeutic, even in a small way?
DANIEL: Because my favorite type of writing is personal, it comes from reflection and meditation, so yes, it has therapeutic value. That might just be the entire reason that I write at all. In truth, I prefer reading to writing, and the world of poetry has much to offer in that regard – Ted Kooser, Kay Ryan, Mary Oliver, to name a few. On this board, there’s the magnificence of Nancy Posey, the imagination of De Jackson, and Hannah Gosselin, whose dictionary apparently has no ugly words. In fact, there is no one at Poetic Bloomings whom I do not enjoy. Back to your question, small town Wisconsin was filled with helpers, and I survived well enough, but death has been a frequent visitor in my life. Of course, there was Vietnam, where it might be expected, but there have been many such occasions in the past 40 years, too many. The positive I find in it all is that I am now comfortable with the process, and a good friend to have when hospice is a part of one’s reality.
MARIE ELENA: Death and dying cannot be avoided, and is a part of everyone on this God-given planet. But oh, if only we could all be “comfortable with the process,” and a “good friend to have when hospice is a part of one’s reality.” This is no small gift, Daniel.
One could only hope that witnessing your own mother’s death at such a tender age would be the only horrific experience in your life. Unfortunately, that is far from the case.
“On October 27, 1967 I met with my mother. She’d been dead since September 30, 1959. At 8:00 P.M. local time, Con Thien, Vietnam, as artillery shells landed within inches of my position with the Third Marines, my world, my body and my mind explosively turned upside down and inside out.” ~ Daniel Paicopulos
DANIEL: We were in an area where we were simply targets, and we suffered 90% casualties over four years, so it was only a matter of when, not if, and whether we would be wounded or killed. This was long before the writings of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who reported the similarities of near-death experiences for thousands of people, so when I found myself facing a tunnel of light and seeing my mother, it was not something real in my comprehension. Then she sent me back, and I found myself “floating” above the battle, seeing my body and those of others. Then the pain began, as a 19-year old corpsman pulled me to safety, and did what he had to do to keep me alive. Six operations, a year in a variety of hospitals, and three years of learning to walk and talk again, and voila, the poet you are interviewing today was reborn. There is no question in my mind that I am a better person and have had a richer, more useful life because of these experiences, so you’ll hear no whining from me about any of it. Had these things not occurred, there would have been no Barbara in my life, no work which made a difference, and, probably, no exposure to you and this fabulous collection of poets from around the world.
MARIE ELENA: The initial experience and all that surround it are simply staggering. I am in awe of your expression of how this experience shaped who you are today. I’d love to hear more, including what you have done with the life God so graciously spared.
DANIEL: Because of my own experiences, my Master’s work was in Rehabilitation Counseling, and I did that type of thing that for 30 years, working with every group you can imagine, from institutionalized felons to the children of immigrants. I was pretty good at getting funding and getting disparate groups to work together to serve those who needed serving, and I understood the political process and played that game fairly well. Since retiring at 55, as my old injuries became arthritis and other gifts which keep on giving, I have spent my time in volunteer work, on the boards and committees where I live, and screening films which are submitted for a couple of international film festivals in Palm Springs. Mostly, though, I do everything I can to support Barbara, in her real estate appraisal business…she’s a real pro at that as well. So, I shop and cook and clean…thank God for the Food Network. We split time now between Palm Springs and San Diego. We’ll settle and consolidate in San Diego, eventually.
MARIE ELENA: I’m certain I don’t speak only for myself when I say thank you for your service, both in Viet Nam and back home again. That sounds so petty, but is achingly sincere.
Now, if there was only one thing we could know about you, what would you tell us, and why?
DANIEL: I want you all to know how grateful I am for life as it is, and my gratitude is exponentially enhanced by the beautiful words, phrases and thoughts, rhyming or not, of all of the poets on this board – so open, so willing to share, so honest, like purple Sara in Portland and Patricia in Eau Claire, and Iain – well, wherever he is – and everyone else who is so supportive and generous with their loving kindness. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are a blessing.
You also asked me to share a favorite poem of my own, why I chose it, how it represents me. That’s a tough one, and the answer would change, depending on the day and mood. I like poetry that is to the point, based in personal experience, not necessarily driven by form or rhyme scheme – though I do like slanted rhyme or near-rhyme. My favorite poems are small descriptions of what I see, or reflections of my life, recent or in the distant past. Of late, that has been from a gentler me, so I picked this one:
If it please God,
let it be less about me
and more about them,
the ones without.
If it please God,
let my wishes go,
except the dreams of peace,
the ones with hope.
If it please God,
let my goals not matter,
but for the sharing with
the ones who need.
If it please God,
let me be smaller
but have the gifts be great,
the ones from the heart.
If it please God,
let my days run no longer
than I am useful and caring,
the ones filled with kindness.
(C) Daniel Paicopulos
MARIE ELENA: Another one of my favorites of yours. I’m so glad you decided to share it.
When I told Walt to hang on to his hat, I was completely serious. Daniel, with all you have been through, your outlook on life is nothing short of astounding. I would love nothing more than to sit down face-to-face to listen to your stories for hours. God willing, perhaps someday.
Who knows? Maybe we could even share some Buckeye/Badger football. I’m game if you are. 😉