A Poet’s Journey: Joe Costa Shares His Senior Seminar Experiences

By Joe Costa
SC Staff Writer

Every Wednesday at four o’ clock, I meet with Professor Selving in the intimidating, yet, helpful English Department.  Books line the shelves like wallpaper and a stuffed ebony bird, Poe’s Raven, is perched atop a filing cabinet, watching and listening to us discuss contemporary poetry. This is the atmosphere for my independent study in Senior Seminar for Creative Writing, a class that’s welcoming, personal and educational.  Coming to an exciting consensus, Professor Selving and I agreed to have the Senior Seminar focused primarily on poetry; that is, reading creatively, writing creatively and thinking creatively.

My interest in poetry sparked when I began reading authors like Mewlana Jaluddin Rumi, Henry David Thoreau and other writers that use there words as a catalyst to connect with the spiritual and abstract. Moreover, Professor Selving tailored the class to meet with my interests with the Divine in a unique and unexpected way. Rather than studying authors of the past who speak directly to the spiritual, she introduced me to contemporary poets who let their poems speak for themselves—poems that reach spirituality within their description, theme and ambiguity. The genesis of my creative improvement will stem from reading and understanding contemporaries, modeling after them and appreciating their description and creativity while remaining inventive in my own work.  Authors such as Mary Oliver and Li Young Lee are inspiring and informative when attempting to approach elegance while avoiding sentiment.  Other authors such as Tomas Transtromer and Yusef Komunyaaka exemplify a more rigid depiction of the concrete, avoiding elegance while zoning in on exactness and precision of description.

Prior to my independent  study, admittedly my career and experience in poetry was amateur; however, my aim with this course is to enhance my ability to portray the abstract in my verse. With that said, my room for improvement lies within the aptitude to draw the abstract from the concrete—avoiding vagueness and clichés while focusing on originality and ambiguity. To write freely and literally and to allow for a poem to take on a life of its own comes with time and practice, which, indeed, is my objective with this course. How hard it is to describe the Infinite with finite words!

In addition to the deconstruction and imitation of contemporary poets, Professor Selving has assigned reviews on Books and poetry readings. Likewise, Professor Selving is assisting my poetic expression of personal experience, recollection and depiction.  It is an art to rewrite the past with exactitude and describe the visual with uniqueness.  One of my unfinished poems that we are currently working on, “Wearing Wigs,” is my attempt to rewrite the past as it happened and to paint that picture for the reader.

Wearing Wigs

Many nights were spent
on the porch counting cars.
Two Red! Three Blue! Four Blue!

Mom would always win.

I want to go back and
yell to my mother,

“Stop crying!
It’s going to be ok!”

She’s thirty-four. She wears wigs.
Blonde, Burgundy, Brunette –
(she was never herself then)

The wigs never helped though;
Her hair still fell to the floor
like loose-leaf sheets of paper,
fighting, fighting the inevitable!

I wish I could catch them on
their way down. I would

Have given them to my sister –
she always glued back the hair
to her dolls.

My mom tells secrets to my father,
but I have placed my toys
strategically to listen –
G.I. Joe on the counter,
Power rangers in her bed,
they’ll tell me!
I want to hug her, hold her.
I want to apologize.
I want to struggle, carrying in my

Hand her tears
that fell like
to the floor.

But I can’t. I’m only five.
My action figures are the
closest I ever get to death.

I want to go back five more years.
Before the wigs.
Before the tears.
Before me.

Sometimes, when she wasn’t looking,
I used to wear her wigs.
I wanted to see if they were heavy.
If they hurt.
They didn’t – at all.
I never wanted her to cry.

Was I worth the dying, Mom?
Was I worth the dying, Lord?
I know what’s wrong with the world.
I am.

Once I have written a poem, Professor Selving and I edit the poem, deciphering what is significant, what needs more imagery and what is too vague and incomplete. The objective in the class is to create a portfolio of twenty finished poems that reach the expectations of the course description.

My experience with Professor Selving has helped me to read contemporary poets creatively by deconstructing and analyzing each poets stylistic idiosyncrasies, poem order in compilations of works, recurring themes, imagery, settings, and voice and tonal qualities.

Consequently, by studying these with an experienced and creative reader such as Professor Selving, my own work improves before my eyes and I slowly start to understand the difficulties and complexities of the art of description. After the seminar, I hope to have a better poetic skill that allows the reader to transcend the temporary trappings of this world and look into the spiritual—finding the sheer beauty in simplicity and existence.

Email Joe at: