POET INTERVIEW – DAVID DE JONG
Photo credit: Lindsey De Jong
Hold on to your cowboy hat and get ready to take a stroll alongside a man who would describe himself as plain folk, and whom I would describe as a man of faith and transparency: David De Jong.
As I do with all our guests, I asked David to share a favorite poem of his own. He happened to choose one that I could easily have chosen as well: Psalm of the Mountains. He has set a reading of it to a gorgeous slide show of photos taken while visiting Grand Tetons National Park. His reading is lovely. Check it out here: http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=0FJ0J1NU
MARIE ELENA: I’m so glad we finally get the pleasure of finding out a bit more about you, David. If your poetry reflects you, your life, and your faith, I know we are all in for a treat.
Let’s start with Psalm of the Mountains. It’s beautiful. Tell me about its origins.
DAVID: First off, thank you for your gracious invitation to not only post my periodic ramblings on your site, but also to be chosen as an interview subject. It is an incredible honor to be here among such an amazing group of talented individuals.
Now to answering the question. “Psalm of the Mountains” encompasses two things. It’s loosely based off Psalm 121, a favorite Psalm of my Dad – I can still hear him say the words. “Psalm of the Mountains” is a poem I wrote when my wife Shirley and I returned from a road trip to bring our youngest (Lindsey) back to college in Boise, Idaho. We took all the two-lane roads through back country and just enjoyed the trip. On the way out and on the return trip we stopped at the Grand Tetons and just basked. The poem is very sentimental because this was one of the first road trips we took together after getting back together. We spent several days visiting our other daughters and son-in-law, and celebrated little Timmy’s 3rd birthday – what a hoot. The time, the scenery, everything, was just so amazing and beautiful in so many different ways, but would have been so different if we couldn’t have shared it together. It made it so much more special and was such a blessing. I remember stopping in Jackson, WY and buying a charm bracelet for Shirley as a little surprise gift/souvenir. My heart skips whenever I hear these charms on her wrist, it’s instant flashback to that day. Does anyone else hear the soundtrack to “Dances with Wolves” in their head when you see massive herds of buffalo, those deep cellos and strings just stirring your soul?
MARIE ELENA: What a great memory. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. And just for the record, deep cellos and strings always stir my soul.
The poem I chose to share is one I feel captures the heart of who you are.
COWPOKE POET (by David De Jong)Just an old cowpoke, workin’ with wire
Prob’ly be dead, before he’ll retire
Workin’ the ranch, lovin’ his dear wife
Thankin’ the Lord, for his blessed life Rhymin’ words he shares, simple yet true
A workin’ man’s heart, country side view
Hear the saddle creak, feel reigns in hand
Pull of the lasso, burnin’ hot brand Hear an angel’s voice, then see her face
Watch her loving smile, light up the place
Timber and prairie, mountain and slough
Printed on the page, in front of you Smell the fire, coffee, pine and smoke
Watch dancin’ embers, laugh at a joke
Cattle on the ridge, belly-high brome
This would be the spot, he would call home Saddle up, ride the trail, see the place
See what comes of, God’s amazing grace
“There’s something about being outdoors that makes every breath count.” I have a feeling this is very much you. Please tell me what you mean by this.
DAVID: I said that? Vaguely remember, but can’t put my finger on when/where. Basically I love being outside. There is so much outdoors that we take for granted and being cooped up in a manufacturing setting day after day makes me appreciate it more. Nature just speaks to my soul in some mysterious way. Not in a Dr. Doolittle way, but its just this constant reminder that there is a Creator bigger than all of this, and every infinitesimal detail is in His control. Who tells the ants to store up for the winter? Who guides the vast flocks of species thousands of miles over land, over sea? How does a tree planted by God, grow so straight and perfect on its own in the wild when the ones I plant want to grow crooked? To me it’s like this grand cathedral bringing glory and recognition to its Creator and we as humans get to participate, be care takers, observe and enjoy. It refreshes the spirit like a good book/song or uplifting movie and each season has its varying take of inspirational beauty. A cleansing summer rain with the birds just tilting into it to get washed, a soft winter snow when it’s so quiet you can hear the snow fall (you’re afraid to breathe because it would make too much noise), those early spring days where green is poking through little bits of snow claiming victory, or how about the smell of leaves in the fall and the rustle they make as you or anything walks through – it’s all just magic. Now all that said there are times I dread going outside as well, for instance lately the temperature and humidity in our area has been stifling, so we’ve been hanging out inside in the air-conditioning watching movies, etc.
MARIE ELENA: *sigh* We could just call the interview to a halt right here, and I would feel I already got my poet-heart’s fill. You just have a beautiful way of looking at creation, and expressing your vision of it.
And here I am with another “just for the record” — that quote that inspired my question is from “About Me” at your charming and inspirational blog: Rusty Midnight Ramblins. 😉
Speaking of inspirational, from where do you draw your writing inspiration?
DAVID: It varies, and it’s two-fold; until I came across Poetic Bloomings and Poetic Asides, I never heard of “prompts.” I believe I have written more pieces in response to these prompts than anything else. It actually surprised me that I could write something to a suggestion. Before, there would be several weeks, even months, where my mind seemed blank and unproductive until something triggered it. Again nature and my faith play a large role in it as well. It is also inspiring to have someone comment, or come up to you with tears in their eyes and tell you how much a poem touched them. It becomes a purpose driven endeavor to bring a smile, lighten a load, and show there is hope, even if it’s just for a moment or that day – the seed is planted.
MARIE ELENA: Who or what developed your love for poetry?
DAVID: I have always had things roll through my head – especially late at night when that thinking machine just won’t shut down. I thought it was all nonsense to be honest. Occasionally I would write something down and give it to my wife, Shirley, or pass it on in a Christmas letter. I never pursued it until the last few years. The whole idea/concept of ‘Poetry” is foreign to me (this is probably where a lot of people are saying “no kidding”). All these different forms, rules, etc. is all new to me – so I’m learning as I go. Went to a writer’s group meeting and they started talking about “feet” – I was clueless – still am. I just started doing some searches on the internet for poetry sights and ran across Poetic Asides. Then I noticed that a lot of the same folks participated on another sight, Poetic Bloomings. Both were so friendly, courteous, and encouraging, I was hooked. I visited Poetic Asides several times and just read through some of the prompts and responses and then came the November Poem A Day challenge. I gritted my teeth, registered and worked up a little courage. Signed up under a made up name just in case I was humiliated and gave it a shot. The first time I submitted something I was scared to death I would be laughed at – instead some lady, named Marie Elena Good, commented on it – “Sweet poem.” Since then I have checked other poet’s blogs and printings and even started my own blog, Rusty Midnight Ramblins. I only post once a week, occasionally with pictures (time is a precious commodity) and often lately, they have been pieces that originated from prompts at Poetic Bloomings. I envy the individuals that can post on a daily basis – how do they do that?
MARIE ELENA: I agree, David. It’s hard enough to post several times per week, as we do here at Poetic Bloomings. Do you have a particular poet that captures your fancy? Is there someone you try to emulate?
DAVID: I was a little afraid you would ask something like that. I don’t know anyone (other than the folks here); haven’t read anyone (something else I need to work on). I enjoy a couple cowboy poets, Baxter Black and a fellow by the name of Joe Kreger. Baxter is pretty well known but Joe may be new to many people. Both write about farmin’ an’ ranchin’ in that simple and lovable way. Joe Kreger can write a poem about a rancher; goin’ out in a blizzard to find a scrawny calf that ain’t fit to feed and relate it to Christ coming to earth to save us sinners – you are in tears by the time you get done reading. Another great source is a small book of devotions we read daily, called “Streams in the Desert.” It’s a compilation of poetry, prose, and short devotionals, written in the early 1900’s, but the words are timeless. Each day starts with a short Bible verse, followed by a devotion. One day may have 3 or more sources that compile the piece. If you ever get in a book store check it out. I love the Psalms (especially the ones written by David – go figure). It amazes me that something written centuries ago is so relative today and however deep in the pit he is, he has praise for the Lord of the Heavens. He is thankful for the life the Lord has given him, regardless what he (David) had done, and knows full well God is his only hope.
MARIE ELENA: I find myself wanting to “amen” just about everything you have to say, David. Not that I’m surprised at that … your poetry always has me nodding my head in “kindred spirit” agreement.
Now tell me, do you consider YOURSELF a poet?
DAVID: OK, I think I’m done laughing now… There are times I see myself a little eclectic, and I believe a lot of artists have an eclectic side, so with poetry being an art, it fits. But then the folder on my computer that contains my “poems” is titled “Junk,” because for the longest time I did not really consider it as “true poetry.” When I’m standing in front of a group of people reading some of my “stuff,” I feel like some kind of a “poet.” When I’m at the regular job doing the everyday grind – I’m wishing; I was one of those authors that has multiple titles on the shelves and new releases in the works. I have been called a “poet,” lovingly. I have been told I have a “poetic heart,” I have been told I “write poetically.” All of these things encourage me to “think” I am a “poet” – I hope someday that I would be remembered as such – but technically I have a long way to go. When I write a poem I feel like a poet – when I read someone else’s poems I think; holy crap what was I thinking! But everyone has their particular style and way of writing – mine is very basic, simplistic – but I believe it does speak to whoever it needs to speak to. Are you seeing the vicious cycle/pattern here? Funny side note – one of the first times I shared one of my “poems” with a friend, he asked me; “You wrote that?” “You really wrote that?” Pointing his finger; “You – you honestly wrote that?” Then he said; “I would have never thought that about you.”
MARIE ELENA: Heeheehee! Thanks a lot, eh? 😉 Well, I can understand why he would be blown away by your work, David.
You use rhyme often in your poetry. Do you feel it comes naturally to you, or is it something you must work hard to achieve?
DAVID: I have experienced days where every thought that comes into my head rhymes – talk about driving a person crazy! Then I can attempt to rhyme a few lines and get totally stumped. Probably going to make some enemies here, but for me if it doesn’t rhyme it’s not poetry – I’m working on that one – Cut me a little slack here please! Initially, I really struggled reading any “free verse” but I have learned to appreciate it more. I can’t say that there is any poets/poetry on Poetic Bloomings that I don’t like. It has been fun to learn everyone’s styles, modes, etc. and they just continually blow me away! How do you/they do that, so consistently – consecutively – wow!
MARIE ELENA: Yes, the whole issue of rhyming seems to be a love-hate relationship. We should do a poll sometime.
Now on the personal side … David, you have not made it any secret that you dropped out of school. What year did you drop out? One of my very favorite Poetic Bloomings poets (Janet Martin: http://poeticbloomings.com/2012/03/14/web-wednesday-janet-martin/) completed only through Grade 8. And she, like you, writes with such beauty, style, intelligence, and grace. What about either school or your life at the time made you decide to drop out?
DAVID: Didn’t recall seeing anything by Janet before (I’m bad with names) so I looked up the link – I can totally see why she is a favorite – amazing poetry.
I was a Junior in High School. Our family had moved about 30 miles away from where we had been living and being the quiet/shy type, I dreaded going to a new school. I hated school. I would think of any excuse to get out of school; headaches, stomach aches, whatever it took. Some/most of that was the defense mechanism of a red-haired, freckle-faced adolescent still in gear. When I finally found a group of friends that accepted me for who I was – it was the wrong group. We were gonna be rock stars – and we partied like we already were. I was finally given a “choice” since I basically refused to go to school, I was required to work – which I already was doing anyway – just not full time. So I thought I had the world by the tail – working full time making money, while all the other chumps were in school. When I went to the graduation (my class’s graduation) it was a stab to my heart, what an idiot I was. Life is so short and there are certain things you get only one chance, one opportunity to experience or do, and looking back it would have taken so little time.
MARIE ELENA: So then you went on to get your G.E.D. Good for you! How hard was it, and how did it impact your life?
DAVID: I started taking college classes at a Junior college in California. Some were for fun and others were geared toward work; such as Electronics, English, etc. When I started to look into the possibility of getting a college degree, the flags came up for high school requirements. So I went to the community adult education system and asked what I needed to do. They asked me some questions to get an idea of my experience/”knowledge” (lol) and decided to let me take one of the tests without taking the class. Passed the test with flying colors – so for the next several months I could just show up on the nights of the particular exams and not have to show up for class – I loved the idea and it went well without a hitch. Side note; I didn’t do this until we had been married several years, and we had two of our three daughters. I never did get an official degree, which hurt me again later in life when jobs were slim. The extra education I got, especially in math/algebra/etc., helped immensely though when it was homework-help time with our girls. When I had to go to school, I didn’t want to be there. Didn’t care. When I wanted to go to school, I wanted to learn and I did, and it did pay off in helping our daughters.
MARIE ELENA: If any of your daughters had wanted to drop out of school, what would have been your reaction, and your advice to them?
DAVID: Wasn’t up for discussion – no matter what it took, they would stay in school. Ironically we moved while our youngest daughter was in high school and it was extremely tough for her initially. But she was smarter and tougher and stuck it out. She will be graduating college this winter. So Proud! I also work with high school kids at a second, part-time job in a farm supplies store. Whenever the subject of how much they dislike school, teachers, etc. comes up, we have a little discussion about what they would be losing out on if they give up or quit, and even how doing poorly affects them/their life.
MARIE ELENA: Such a heart warming story and outcome! I love that you take the time to discuss the issues at hand with the kids that happen on your path.
You and your wife have been married a good many years. Can you let us in on your secret?
DAVID: Our secret is grace — sweet, amazing grace. We’ve been together a good many years because – We got married when we were young. This last summer we celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary, a truly blessed and miraculous event. We had been separated for 19 months about 2 years before. We were losing our house in California (lived in SD), filing for bankruptcy and planning to divorce, when one afternoon I received a text message from Shirley; “I don’t want a divorce.” She had moved to California to live in and care for her elderly parents. The text was something totally out of the blue because we never communicated. It literally brought me to my knees. I immediately called her and we just started talking, texting, e-mailing daily, then multiple times a day. A short time later Shirley moved back home. I flew to California and we drove back to South Dakota together. I swear I was flying so high the plane didn’t need power or wings. I remember telling people (stewardesses, passengers on the plane) where I was going and why and the world was just buzzing with energy. We started over – from scratch. We still talk and text on the phone multiple times during the day, break, lunch-time etc. Often Shirley comes to town and we have lunch together (sack lunch in the car) where I work. It’s all these little mini dates we have. We are so much in love, but we not only love each other – we respect each other. We start every morning together, we have devotions together, we pray together for each other. We do things together. If you have ever lost someone you love and thought you would never see them again, how would you feel given a second chance? We/people always say; “There but by the grace of God go I.” By the grace of God, we have been given a second chance and we are not taking it for granted, but running with it and just thankful for it. This summer we renewed our wedding vows, with our daughters present and most of our family around us. We had a small, casual, precious ceremony outside, behind our grove at the foot of the cross planted on the hill side. We are like 20-year-old newly-weds/high school sweethearts. We have young married couples call us cute and giggle because we give each other a hug, kiss and “love you” when we leave each other. They just say “ugh” or “bye” and walk away from each other. Never waste a moment – that moment may be the last you ever have – and you won’t know it, until it’s too late.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, how I love a happy ending. Good advice too, David. EXCELLENT advice.
Okay, Grandpa, go ahead and brag. 😉
DAVID: Ha Ha finally! The good stuff! I can only brag about my one and only (at the moment) grandson, if I can also brag about my three daughters. We have three, incredibly beautiful, daughters; Nicole, Stephanie, and Lindsey. They are not only physically gorgeous; they are such wonderful, compassionate, young women, strong in their faith and full of wisdom. So when one of them (Nicole) becomes a mother of a little boy, (Timothy David), what else can you expect but perfection. Nicole and Timmy spent about 10 days with us this summer for our celebration and just to hang out with family. It was so much fun playing; cowboys and Indians, soccer, baseball, and all the other stuff little boys love to do. Such a bright, intelligent, and sweet boy – we are so proud of him and so blessed to have his smiles brighten our day. As all 4-year olds he definitely has a bigger energy tank than his grandpa and grandma.
MARIE ELENA: There is nothing like a grandchild. All the fun, without all the responsibility. Thank you for sharing your family with us, David. They are beautiful.
You’ve obviously had a lot of highs and lows in your life. I know you are a man of faith. What would you say draws you closer to God … the highs, or the lows?
DAVID: When we are on the mountain top we feel closer to God in an invincible way; we can do all things through Him. The thankfulness comes easy. It’s also very easy to get complacent, self gratification; “Look what I can do/what I did.” When life is in the pit – where else do we have to turn? It’s crazy but we always (often at the very least) look to prayer as a last resort when it should be top of the list. Grace can be experienced in either scenario, but I think has more lasting meaning when it’s experienced in the pit. When you think you can’t go on, when you surrender all your will to God’s will and depend on Him: it changes you, it blesses you in ways you never could have imagined – and it is so difficult to describe in words. It’s like experiencing your own kind of resurrection and you just cannot explain it. But when you do experience it, you know without a doubt that you have just been given that “Is” from the verse; “My grace is sufficient for you.” Not “could be” not “should be,” but “is.” Grace is so powerful, even when we have no power. I know I use that word (grace) a lot, but we have experienced it, without a doubt. When we get to a point in our life that we don’t know what/where else to turn but God – how do you/we think we got there? Isn’t that exactly where he wants us to be – dependent on Him?
MARIE ELENA: Exactly, David. At least, to my way of thinking.
So, what would you say is the hardest thing you have ever faced? What role did it play in shaping who you are today?
DAVID: You mean besides this interview? It’s so much easier to read someone else’s than be the interviewee. I think I’ve touched on some of that already, but the most recent would have to be the passing of my Mother. Just under 90 years old, lived a life that would kill most people today or put them in an institution. She was a young girl, the age of our daughters, in the Netherlands during WWII. Dad was in the Resistance/Under Ground at the same time. He would have to hide and watch for signals when it was safe to come in and see her, maybe get to rest/sleep for a short while. She told us when the Nazis would come he would have to hide and if he had been sleeping in one of the beds, someone else would have to jump in while he hid/snuck away. The bed was warm so a body had to be there. She always asked him; “How do you lay down and go to sleep, aren’t you afraid?” Dad would tell her; “I just pray, close my eyes and go to sleep.” Talk about faith! Anyway, when Mom Passed (Dad passed away several years ago, Mom was a widow about 30 years) we were reading to her out of her Bible. We just paged through and read passages that she had hi-lighted – every passage we read we could look at Mom and honestly say; “That was Mom.” The poem I wrote for her “Mom,” (http://rustymidnightramblins.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/mom/) the last poem of mine she read/heard, speaks of all the things she did for us growing up and ends “Mom taught us – to be – what we are today.” She really did, even as she aged. Till the day she died she told us how proud of us (her kids) she was, and we were/and are, so proud of who she was, and still is, in our hearts.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, David … I had no idea. I don’t recall ever reading anything in your poetry that indicated the plight of your parents.
I love this from your poem to your mother: “Mom saved money by darning our socks,
Resoled her shoes with a cereal box.” That alone tells us a great deal about her. Thank you for sharing.
Finally, David, if we could know only one thing about you, what would you choose to share with us?
DAVID: That’s tough because I think I have already revealed more than I normally do. I am a man of very few spoken words. I think that’s part of the reason writing poetry appeals and fits. If this had been a vocal/oral interview it would have been very brief. I am a simple man (this is where everyone says; “We already knew that!”), but I am a man that is extraordinarily blessed – not that I am so wonderful, but that I have been given so much; I grew up in a loving family; I have an incredibly beautiful wife that loves me in spite of what she knows about me; We have three gorgeous, intelligent daughters; roof over our head; and the list goes on and on. Uh, that was more than one wasn’t it? Something else I thoroughly enjoy is cooking, making a special meal for the family or just Shirley and me. It’s a hoot, when you grill a pile of steaks and you’re surrounded by beautiful women (wife and daughters) eating them up, not passing them off and eating a salad. That rocks!
Thanks again for this opportunity Marie. Appreciate what you and all the folks at Poetic Bloomings do, it really is a unique community, but in a great way.
Take care and God Bless Everyone. See you on the written page.