SWAN’S ISLAND—Poet Gary Rainford gets a little sad in April, which is National Poetry Month.
“Every day is poetry day for me,” he said in an interview with the Islander. “I want poetry to be on people’s lips throughout the year, not just one month.”
Some people make their way towards poetry after studying other forms of literature. Rainford was just studying the basics ogrammar when he found poetry.
“I remember the exact moment; it was the summer of sixth grade,” he said, explaining that his father drew cartoons and taught him to draw. “I would bury myself in drawing.”
Rainford had severe asthma as a child, which landed him in the hospital on several occasions. One occasion was during that summer. While lying in the hospital bed, Rainford was unable to draw, but he was able to engage his mind in a new way.
“I could make pictures in my head using words,” he said. “I really didn’t know that I was writing poetry… I never could keep a long narrative thought in my head.”
From that moment, Rainford kept a journal and recorded things about his life. It wasn’t until he was a junior in college that he discovered what he had been doing was writing poetry.
Since then, Rainford has published two books of his poetry, “Salty Liquor” and “Liner Notes,” and is in the process of publishing a third book titled “Adrift.” This most recent collection of poems focuses on Rainford’s mother and her experience with Alzheimer’s.
“It was really an experience I thought I was prepared for, but was wholly unprepared,” he said. “It seems to be experiences we just don’t talk about, not honestly… I became her parent. I became her caregiver.
“I didn’t understand that position until I had to make some hard decisions.”
Even though “Adrift” is ready for publication, Rainford is waiting to release it until he can promote it in person. “I’ve had very mixed experiences this year because of COVID… video falls flat, especially with poetry. I love to do readings.”
That electrical charge Rainford experiences when in a room of people, sharing his poetry, is not the only reason to wait.
“I have a different plan for this book than I did for my other two,” he said, explaining how he wants to partner with Alzheimer and dementia groups, as well as caregiver groups, making it a fundraising tour that reaches a broader audience.
Alzheimer’s is an experience that is shared among those who have been affected by it, even if the details are different. Rainford explains how it can run the gamut of emotions from anger to crying to vulnerability.
“I hope that’s what these stories do,” he said. “Sometimes the poem dictates what needs to be said.”
In addition to creating his own poems, Rainford is a professor for Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y.
“I always teach new writers, the most important ritual is creating a routine,” he said. “I get up at 3:45 every morning… If you can sit down every day and make a block of time, you will get inspired.
“I like to get the work done in the morning before life penetrates my skin.”
One of the exciting things for Rainford about creating poetry is making it easily digestible for everyone.
“I try to write in a way that is conversational,” he said, noting that people are often scared of poetry because it feels like too much work to interpret. “I want to do all the work and all the feeling so you can take it with you like a song on the radio… Let the words infiltrate your head subtly and become a part of your life.”
“Hello?” Bobbi swats the telephone
cord as if it were a coiled up snake, pushes
the cradle across the table, then finally
picks up. “Mom, your phone isn’t
broke, after all,” I say into my cellphone
sipping coffee, sitting right across from her
in her apartment. “Gary? Is that you?
I’m so glad you finally
called.” I reach for my mother’s hand.
Tell her she can hang up now, but her face
twists, her mouth angry. “Shush,” she
bites. “I’m talking with my son.”