From a Newtown Literary contributor: Matt Pasca
“Refusing Your Cremation”
One of the many gifts that writing offers its practitioners is the opportunity to work out difficult or confusing feelings in a safe, private and, occasionally, instructive way. “Refusing Your Cremation” is emblematic of this process. My wife of fifteen years and I are nearly always on the same page about life's big questions, but one afternoon, when our conversation cycled around to post-mortem procedures, she affirmed her adamant anti-burial stance. Ideally, I would have rolled with her pronouncement and nodded in agreement, but I found myself struggling to respond.
See, I’m not particularly fond of burial myself, but something about the notion of ME hypothetically not having a place—somewhere tangible—to connect with HER really threw me for a loop. Knowing that her wishes are ultimately what matter, I turned to poetry for answers. Why was my instinct to refuse her cremation? What chord was this striking in me? Bigger still—what even could a world BE without her presence and how might I survive—or want to—in such a reality? The piece not only provided me with peace around the subject, but has turned into a sort of morbid love poem that I enjoy performing in public—more so when my poet-wife is nearby—knowing, naturally, her fondness for the poem in no way indicates a change of heart about her eventual cremation.
“10 Barz for Eminem”
I’ve been teaching poetry to high school seniors for decades now and few formats lend themselves as immediately to visceral and specific writing as the apostrophe. Spoken word artists are particularly gifted at poems of address—pleading with a target audience to receive their admiration or disdain or confusion while the captive audience listens in, grunting their appreciation.
One of my favorite spoken word poets (who happens to be a chillingly gifted page poet and lovely human being as well) is Dr. Joshua Bennett. I share many of his pieces with my students and, one in particular, “16 Bars for Kendrick Lamar,” is a fan favorite. About five years ago, I started writing alongside my students after a screening of the Bennett piece and, when the bell rang, I had written five bars for Eminem, my son Rainer's favorite rapper. I closed my notebook and didn’t return to the piece until the following semester, when I repeated the lesson. When it came to writing, I continued my earlier draft and expanded it to the full 10 bars that now occupy the poem. However, I didn’t pick that notebook up for another year and a half, as I was busy working through previous notebooks (the curse of being a writer who teaches writing but has precious little time to do anything with said writing).
When the notebook with the Eminem draft in it finally came to bat, I noticed missed opportunities in the piece where I could more deeply connect my son’s Asperger’s-fueled obsession with rapping, language and all things Eminem with Em’s own coming out about being diagnosed with Asperger’s. At the time, I figured a poem written in fits and starts over four years' time and re-seen from a variety of different perspectives might not land. I certainly didn’t anticipate what happened next. I decided to read it at an open mic one night on a whim and nearly broke down by the final stanza. When I looked out at the audience, my wife had tears streaming down her face. Two veteran poets then came over and told me it was their favorite piece I’d ever written. I simply had not realized how much the poem captured what we had been through as parents with our amazing and challenging and beautiful boy, or how the poem ultimately spoke not to the gifts and wonders of our son and Eminem, but to how their mysterious connection had transformed and expanded our capacity to love.