Saturday, April 30, 2016

“Flashcuts Out of Chaos.” Great name for a poetry collection. You’ll enjoy the read. One award-winning poet called it “the most humane and winning collection” of poetry. It’s a collection of Charlie Brice’s writing. Charlie is one of thousands of bright Wyoming kids who grew up here but left, never to return. “Flashcuts” is a reminder of the high costs of their exodus. 

Never been much for poetry. High school experiences with poetry weren’t all that inspiring. I suspect that was more my fault than any teacher’s. Pretty much left poetry behind by graduation day.

Half a century passed and an old high school friend changed that.

“Those cottonwoods were thrilling.
They danced like ballerinas
and sometimes went mad
throwing their white blazon
all over the city like furry confetti.”

Charlie Brice graduated from St. Mary’s High School in 1968. His days in the parochial school find their way into his poetry many decades subsequent as attested by his poem, “Daydream.”

“He daydreams,’ my mother
read aloud Sister Susanna’s
terse and torrid critique.
‘What’s a daydream?’ I asked.
‘It’s when you look out the window
and stop listening in class,’ my mother said.”

Charlie experienced daydreams about things like world peace. It wasn’t about religion. It was more profound. “Daydream” revealed healthy skepticism about religion. “Someone picked up the end of a river and found frogs reciting the Baltimore Catechism.”

Charlie earned conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War when local draft boards demanded that applicants demonstrate a genuinely moral conviction against all war. He did.

Charlie studied philosophy at the University of Wyoming, graduating from Denver University in 1974, the year he married Judy. In 1998, Charlie was awarded a Ph.D. in psychology from Duquesne University. He and Judy remain in Pittsburgh. Charlie was a psychoanalyst, retiring a decade ago when he unleashed the poet.

The poet writes, “Stop daydreaming,’ my mother said.” Fortunately Charlie didn’t.

“But the music I heard/saw out that window:
The Nutcracker Suite-Elephants skittered like leaves
across the sky, Jesus jumped
from his cross and chased Lazarus to Life.”

Over the years, Charlie’s poetry was read in countless national publications such as the Atlantic Review. He earned prestigious honors including the International Merit Award in Atlantic Review’s 2015 International Poetry Competition and the 2013 Allen Ginsburg Poetry Contest.

Often his work recounts those youthful Wyoming days. Charlie wrote a story he titled “Coward.” ( It was about his decision to seek conscientious objector (CO) status while living in Cheyenne. He persuaded the draft board of the honesty of his convictions and served in the psychiatric ward of a Denver hospital. It was a courageous choice but not particularly welcomed here. Charlie’s best friend’s father told him, “C and O were the first two letters in the word coward.”

“Coward” tells of the day a patient asked, “You scared to fight?

“No,’ I said, ‘I just don’t believe I or anyone has the right to take another person’s life.’ Becoming a pacifist had been a long and arduous road. I’d studied the thought of Buddha, Spinoza, Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, but it was Yevtushenko’s poem, ‘People,’ that convinced me that killing a person meant killing a world, a universe of relationships, a lifetime collection of love, hate, joy, disappointment, defeat, and triumph. Who had the right to do that?”

Wyoming might hold onto more of its young if it honored people who aren’t afraid to fight but didn’t after reading Tolstoy, Spinoza, Gandhi and linking the killing of one person to the destruction of “a lifetime collection of love, hate, joy, disappointment, defeat, and triumph.”

Thank God for Facebook. It’s where those staying in Wyoming connect with friends who didn’t. Many of us who remained made good lives here. I have no regrets. Yet I can’t help but wonder about Wyoming. What could we be today if Wyoming had been more open to folks like Charlie Brice.

It wasn’t. It isn’t. Its loss.

“Stop daydreaming,’ my mother said.” Wyoming did.