In 2008, I started and curated (lol) an online poetry “club” on Facebook called The Open Mic. The group has since been shut down, or maybe it simply vanished after years of cyber neglect. Early college Brad had Ideas and Feelings, as did the English majors or English-inclined folks who populated the group. Naturally, we put our Ideas and Feelings into something resembling verse. My memory of who joined The Open Mic has blurred over time, though I do remember our own the post calvin alumnus Jacob Schepers submitting a few poems. Oddly enough, on the post calvin’s About page, The Open Mic isn’t listed among the publications in which his poetry has appeared. Strange.
My poetry was, in a word, unbearable. Here’s one gem: “Wading in the water, or am I waiting?” An ambitious opening line. Or this, from a poem about a hungry man named Charles who goes to the grocery store to pick up a few items only to realize there’s more missing from his life than creamed corn (creamed corn?? Goodness, I loved alliteration): “But the shelves were not stocked with remedies for those.” Audacious. Brilliant. Gripping.
As you might imagine, Mr. Schepers was already a Lew Klatt prodigy whipping out poems you could downright live in. Next to his tireless marvels, my poems read like they’d been written by an eleven-year-old who skimmed “The Raven” once, thought the word “quoth” was cool, and listened exclusively to “I Miss You” era Blink-182. (Wholly to his credit, Jake was wildly affirming of everyone’s poetry on The Open Mic. I won’t ever forget that.)
Right now, I’m slowly making my way through the Penguin Classics anthology of nineteenth-century American poetry. In the introduction, the editors William C. Spengemann and Jessica F. Roberts tell us they included certain popular (and rather lifeless) poems in the collection to highlight the genius of innovators like Whitman, Dickinson, and Melville. My poems in The Open Mic served an analogous purpose: they underscored the prowess of other poets in the group. Even nineteen-year-old Brad eventually owned up to this reality.
But Spengemann and Roberts also chart a trend in nineteenth-century American poetry that finds it moving from poetry as public act toward poetry as private revelation. And there’s the rub. My poems were written for an imagined audience whom I thought might benefit from my cliched wisdom. The better poems on The Open Mic cracked open a soul and set the result before us. They released an inner world.
I still write poems. Recently, my therapist asked me to bring a few in, and I conveniently forgot and then forgot again. It’s difficult because I finally write poems that disclose parts of me not generalized or writ large. They are not good poems, but they are honest, so should they leave me? I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that 2008 Brad would slap them up on The Open Mic faster than you could say “Song of Myself.” I miss his conviction.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.