Friday, August 25, 2017

"How to Write Autobiography" by Eric McHenry, Guest Contest Judge

How to Write Autobiography
Eric McHenry

"Pitch" Watercolor on Paper by J. Artemus Gordon
Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood
says Satchel Paige in his memoir, with all
the daffy precision of the troubleball
that left left-handers corkscrewed in the mud.
Presume Kingfish’s innocence. Who’s bringing
the allegation but the alligator?
And who’s that writing? John the Revelator.
Don’t interrupt the blind man when he’s singing.
When writing, say or sing. Improvisation
was your whole life. Authentic is a game
that favors those who throw like trouble, name
like Adam and pronounce like Revelation.
Or fake it. Look at these italics, leaning
hard with the weight of someone else’s meaning.

Poet’s Notes: There’s a famously eccentric series of quotes from Satchel Paige’s autobiography that begins, “Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.” When I noticed that that was a perfect pentameter, I started writing this poem. It also refers to Amos ‘n’ Andy and the song “John the Revelator” by Blind Willie Johnson. Non-standard English is where all the brilliance is.  “How to Write Autobiography” was first published in Poet Lore.

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