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3 poems by Robin Gow

1 essay by Molly Raynor,
on the poems of Robin Gow

Public School Poetry Essay


When I was 14 I had my first creative writing class with Jeff Kass at Pioneer High School. In a public school with 3,000 students, it was easy to get lost, to lose oneself, to check out, but in that classroom I came alive for the first time in school. His lessons burned into me, and I have passed them on to many generations of students: “show me, don’t tell me. Poems that are abstract are universal, but poems with concrete, specific images are unforgettable and uniquely yours.” This series of poems​​—"Second Class Relic,” “Watching You Bead,” and “Ode to Uncertainty”—they show me. They generously offer us readers a vivid, intimate glimpse into the poet’s life. “You dip needle into blue. A heron beak. / Ancestor knuckled night. You, asking stars to make us into song channels.” The language awakens me, surprises me, ruffles my chest like the first day of creative writing class my freshman year. 


Jeff’s class changed the course of my life, as I discovered that poetry was the language I had been seeking, the tongue I had been speaking since childhood. When I would sit for hours in my backyard, befriending the rolly pollies and conversing with the dandelions. When I travel to a Spanish-speaking country, I am rusty at first, and then slowly it comes back, until a week or 2 in I am dreaming in Spanish, my mouth suddenly stuffed with ribbons of language. This is how it is with poetry- when I step away from writing for a while the world is normal, but when I have a daily writing ritual I become fluent again. “Poetry brain” I call it- suddenly everything is a poem. The trash in the street is a poem. The old man on a bus is a poem. The notes app of my phone is full of images and first lines and scraps of language. 


These poems returned me to my younger self in more ways than one. Nostalgia washed over me as I read “Second Class Relic,” thinking of all the artifacts from past relationships I can’t bear to part with, stuffed in boxes in my basement like a museum of lost loves. “I stopped wearing your shirt when I fell in love again. / I couldn’t bear to feel so close to you anymore / and yet I still can’t throw the shirt out.” I don’t know the whole story but I feel all the feelings. To be a poet is to be a tender archivist. To keep emotional artifacts like butterflies pressed beneath glass. “Maybe it is an attempt to preserve / the me I was when I loved you.” Poet Shira Erlichman says “[w]riters, too, are taxidermists.” We revisit past versions of ourselves with wiser eyes, ready to open the boxes in the basement, the jars lining the shelf. Ready to eat our pickled joy and revise our pain. This writer is unafraid to linger in longing and lay in the bed of first love.


I am also struck by their humility, the way these poems offer more questions than answers. “I do not know / what I am keeping.” In "Letters to a Young Poet," Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language…Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” Living the questions may be hard for those of us who gain a sense of security in certainty, who feel the need to know. But this writer walks bravely into the unknown. In “Ode to Uncertainty,” they write “[a] name could be a place where you lay down. Where no one calls you. Where you call yourself into a plain of lilac and sugar. I do not know if I have ever called myself.” They go on to show us the difference between being told you are something and finding it for yourself. Show me, don’t tell me. I am moved by the way they interrogate truth, both the world’s and their own.


This poet writes “To be an animist is to not only believe / in the spirits of tea cups but also in the ways / our ghosts bleed one into the next.” In these poems, trees gossip, creeks speak, and stars are asked questions. In these poems, humans become gods in their simplest moments--while threading a bead onto a string, while laying in a cramped twin bed under a swath of dusk light. To be a poet is to find the sacred in the mundane. I wonder if all poets were this way as children, or if all children are poets until they lose their ability to see the life in every object and the holiness in even the ugliest things. In a world rife with dehumanization and disconnection, this writer reminds us to slow down and love every little thing--old t-shirts, blue beads, our ghosts, each other, and even our own uncertainty. They teach us to live our way into the answers.


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