Poetry in Motion by Susan Larson
Black History Month in America contest entry
One of the fringe benefits of being a substitute teacher is that if you don't want to
work you can just say, "No." So, when the phone rang at 7:00 AM, I repeated like a
litany, "I don't want to sub today," as I reached to grab it. But on the other end, my friend, Mary,
said, "Susan, you've got to come see this! I'm in the grocery store parking lot and there's
this pickup truck. You won't believe it!"
"You call me before the sun is up to tell me there's a pickup truck in a parking lot? I
believe. I believe. Now can I go back to sleep?"
"No, you have to see this! It says 'William Arndell, Poet.'"
As a writer, I couldn't resist. I definitely wasn't going to accept any subbing assignments today. I had to see what this was all about.
E'er so swiftly I leapt to my feet
With hopes that morn a poet to meet.
'Neath his wiper blade I left my card
In hopes of a tryst with this travelling bard.
Arndell called me that afternoon and we met for coffee. He looked every bit a poet with his crisp white shirt and soft gray temples. He didn't say much. He just handed me some of his poems and a copy of his book, Poetry of a Man's Soul. "My poetry speaks from my heart," he told me. "I don't have any more to say."
As he sipped his coffee, I gleaned some facts off the back of his book. He went to Norfolk State University, served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He's been a cook, a grocery store manager and a policeman. Currently he stocks shelves in grocery stores. But only to pay his bills.
When I got him to talk, he said in 1993 he was down on his luck and went through a severe depression. He started writing poetry to help pull himself through. He said it just came to him, mostly at night. In 1994 he published his book, Poetry of a Man's Soul. His topics range from parenthood and family values to cowboys and social issues, but each contains an element of love. Each is accompanied by a short paragraph explaining its intent and inspiration. Arndell concludes on the back cover with "I thank God for giving me the wisdom to write this book."
Though the book has been around for five years and is in its second printing, the sign on his truck is relatively new.
"Two years ago, I did some stuff at Riverdale High School and the kids said I was a real poet. It made me feel good, but it wasn't till I was introduced at the Black Arts Festival as a poet that I started calling myself one. Then when I got a standing O for my reading at the Poetry Center, I said 'I AM a poet' and put the sign on my pickup. People may see me stocking shelves, but in my soul, I know what I am."
Arndell loves working with kids and conducting after school poetry workshops to help them get in touch with their souls. He's also done kids' cooking programs and is working on a kids' show for educational television.
He was honored in 1999 for Black History Month with a front-page story in a Riverdale newspaper featuring his soulful poetry. Then, in February 2000 he was a guest poet at the EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida. He showed me the picture and said, "This was nothing. You want to' know what the big thrill was? My little granddaughter showed it to her teacher and told her I was her granddad. No one believed her, so she took me to school for show and tell. I got to share my soul with those kids."
If you see him around in his pickup, he may have some free poetry samples for you. But if he's out of them, which is often the case, he'll always share his smile - and his soul.
Pickup trucks, now as a rule
To the yuppie crowd just are not cool,
But Arndell springs a whole new notion -
They can be 'poetry in motion!'
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