Finding "new ways to see" is the task of two Hardin
County poets, Eddie Burch of Elizabethtown and Delbert Gardner
of Radcliff. Both are employed by government agencies, both write
on similar themes, and both draw sustenance and ideas from their
families. Staff Writer Greg Kocher talked recently with these
two men about why they write. [. . .]
Delbert R. Gardner has a knack
for taking the little things in life and turning them into stories
with a moral.
For instance, there was the time that a friendly dog
wound up on Gardner's porch, wagging and thumping its tail. The
seed for a short story was planted in Gardner's mind.
The story, published in a Michigan
magazine, was called "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog." It
is about a dog who learns how to speak and reason as well as his
master. Trouble is, he becomes so sophisticated that he falls in
love with his master's wife!
In "Finger Lake,"
Gardner recalls the struggle of catching a fish:
"Sudden life electrifies
And fish is joined to man (or man to fish)
By cord of love and death: mysterious bond
That neither fish nor man can understand
But seemingly essential to them both.
The fish is strong, I give it line at first--
It fancies victory and squanders strength
Till, spent, it splashes weakly by the boat
The largest rainbow I have ever seen . . . "
"I started out with my
experience as a fisherman and appreciation of the beauty of the
lake at dawn." And from there he began to think about how long
the lake had been there, and how it had sustained life.
"I began to think about
it as something eternal, an allegory of the world, but I didn't
start out with that," Gardner says.
Such is the creative process
for Gardner, 60, who says he gets his ideas "from all over,
a lot of times from dreams. Usually, if I have a striking dream
I'll write a couple of ideas in a notebook."
But he adds, "Writing is
99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. Every good writer
has inspiration but before he gets much of it he's going to have
to be a hard worker. It's like priming a pump. You can't get any
water out of the pump until you pour water into it to create the
"I force myself to put
words on paper and not worry how good they are."
If his writing has an overall
theme, it is "a zest for life, is the only thing I can name
right off. I have a lot of other concerns, like the search for identity,
a concern with isolation."
Gardner has published a dozen poems, five short stories, and
a number of reviews and feature articles. He has been published
in Poetry Digest, American Poetry, The Christian
Science Monitor, Literary Review and a number of
regional poetry reviews.
He also published a book titled An "Idle Singer"
and His Audience: The Poetic Reputation of William Morris in England,
Morris "was a poet laureate in his own time, but he's not popular today," Gardner says. Unfortunately, neither was Gardner's book.
"It's so esoteric it hasn't even sold 500 copies yet," he says.
An Ohio native, Gardner received his bachelor's and master's degrees at Syracuse University and his doctorate at the University of Rochester. He used to teach creative writing, and was a college English professor for 19 years, first at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., then at Keuka College in Keuka Park, N.Y.
Staff cutbacks forced him to go into government employment as
an editor in Fort Eustis, Va., in 1979. Three years later, he
came to Fort Knox. Gardner, his wife, Marilyn, and their children--Carolyn,
14, twins Theodore and Daniel, both 12, and Melody, 9--live in
Gardner edits training and doctrinal literature at Fort Knox.
"My concern is to make
it clear and consistent and to make sure that it gets across to
the audience what it's supposed to," he says.
It's not exciting work, but
it's a living. Which is more than Gardner can say about the market
for poetry: "There's a very poor market for poetry. There's
no poet except Rod McKuen that can make a living at poetry."
Most of his poems are written
in some kind of meter or rhythm. The only free verse poem without
such rhythm is about writing. It is called "Cocoon" (1956).
"I saw something between
a baby being born and trying to communicate--it really is a miracle
when a baby tries to speak--and the poet trying to find expression,"
"I don't find it comfortable
to write free verse because there's too much of a temptation to
write prose and arrange it to look like verse," he says.
Gardner says beginning writers
shouldn't be offended if their work is constructively criticized.
"Don't treat it as sacred.
Be able to rewrite your own work." And they should be persistent
in their writing, submitting work for publication over and over
until it's accepted.
"You have to be able to
stand rejection, and after a while, if they're any good, some of
them will get published."
When he first puts thoughts
to paper, he doesn't worry about "whether it's garbage or not."
The main thing is to get it down. Then, leave it alone for a while
and return to it later, when you have a more objective view about
what you've written.
"Practice is all I can
say. It's kind of an evolution. I think the biggest thing a writer
can do is write a lot. I'm hardly ever satisfied with anything I've
done the first time. When I work on it again I'm more objective
about it, I've separated myself from it. The inspiration doesn't
come if you don't work on it."