Sabukewicz shares life’s moments through poetry
MIDDLEBURY — For 15 years, Charles Sabukewicz taught Middlebury Union High School students to write and appreciate good literature.
Now 78 and retired from teaching, Sabukewicz is himself rediscovering the art of writing — specifically poetry — which he is using as a descriptive vehicle to convey the countless interesting memories and observations he has accumulated during an eventful life.
More than 70 of those poems can be found in his new book, “In Sleep’s Circumference,” published by Red Barn Books of Vermont. The poems are inspired by the events of Sabukewicz’s childhood, as well as his observations of nature, the creative process of writing, and his speculation about the hereafter.
He had previously written two self-published chapbooks containing his poetry, titled “Rowing in Twilight” and “Guests of the Elements.”
He credits the late great E.E. Cummings with fanning his enthusiasm for poetry. Sabukewicz cited Cummings’ style, which included intentional misspellings and unconventional syntax.
“The fact that he could throw the rules aside; I really like that,” he said. “Once in a while I’ll write a prose poem, but fit a rhyme in there — which is a no-no. But I am comfortable with that.”
It’s mostly about rhythm and making sure the final product is concise and well composed, Sabukewicz said.
“I believe in careful writing,” he said. “I also believe in impulsive writing, but at some latter point in the writing, you have to refine it — listen to the rhythms and read it out loud. I think poetry is primarily something that should be shared with people by reading out loud.”
There’s a cadence to Sabukewicz’s poems that makes them both approachable and evocative.
“I want people to know I’m just an ordinary person who has shared in a lot of things,” Sabukewicz said.
Indeed, his work is as rhythmic as the waves that crash along the Atlantic shoreline of his native Narragansett, R.I.
“At night, I could hear the ocean pounding from my bedroom window,” he recalled. “I trace my fascination with cadence to the tides and the ocean.”
But he now draws some inspiration from the mountains of Vermont, to which he and his wife Helen Marsh moved in 1985.
“It was a really excellent trade-off,” he said of the move. “We are happy to be in Vermont.”
He taught English, with an emphasis on American literature, during his 15-year stint at MUHS. He retired in 1999 after a total of three decades in teaching. While a door closed on the classroom, another one opened up for him to practice his passion for poetry.
“For many years I wanted to write, but I enjoyed teaching, which took so much of my time,” Sabukewicz said.
Now he has plenty of time to write, and he makes the most of it.
“I like to write every day, but I don’t pick an exact time,” Sabukewicz said. “I wait for something to prompt me.”
There are times, however, when Sabukewicz will prompt himself — by typing a single word on his computer screen and then gain the inspiration to add other words to form a cohesive symphony of descriptive verses that can paint scenes in each reader’s mind.
For example, on one day he typed the word “pinch” on his screen. He eventually gave that lonely word some friends, to form the poem “Insomnia,” an affliction he battled for five years.
“O for a pinch of sleep
a penny’s worth
a veil dropped down
on the waking world
to carry me under the sea
my arms full of ocean
in the dream light of stars…”
He has always been in awe of nature and the universe in which all living things dwell. That awe comes through in his writings.
“When I was a kid, someone told me, ‘The universe doesn’t have a top, bottom or sides,’” he recalled. “I’ve never gotten over that. As a kid, I wondered, ‘How can it go and go without resting on a pedestal or have a roof, or something?’
“I think poetry is another way to know about the universe,” Sabukewicz added. “Poetry does something that other uses of language can’t communicate.”
Poetry has also provided an avenue through which Sabukewicz can share stories about his family, including his late father. He admired his dad, who joined the Navy but was barred from fighting in WWII due to an injury. So he worked in a propeller plant during the war. He drove a motorcycle 20 miles each way to work the night shift at his job making propellers for fighter planes. He then worked as a painter before dying at the age of 47.
“He was a family hero when we realized what he had done for so long,” Sabukewicz said of dad’s efforts during the war.
He wrote about his dad’s sudden passing, and the nature of death, in his poem “Archaeological”:
“My father in chaos
gone without warning
his atoms lost
in graveyard dust.”
“I sift these sediments
in times hard clay
that my dream of him
not decompose, that I
recall his smile, that
the past is not a grave.”
Several of his poems deal with mortality.
“I’m not troubled by it, and I don’t want people to perceive it as a ‘dark’ book,” Sabukewicz said. “The whole issue I think has been part of my thinking.”
He also offers a humorous take on time, as reflected in the poem, “At the Clock Repair Shop”:
“Their insides exposed, their cogs and gears,
springs and pendulums
sprawled at every angle everywhere
on work benches, counters, window sills:
useless hands on useless faces, so much time
stopped, spilled out… ”
Sabukewicz draws much inspiration for his nature poems from time spent at his family’s summer camp on Coles Pond in Walden, Vermont.
He offers this on “The Swallows at Coles Pond”:
“Would we become messengers of light,
sewing with our words and gestures
a lyrical quilt
wherein our stories are told
in the beautiful threads of the swallows flight?”
Then there’s this, from “the Woodpile”:
“Maple, birch, oak
have been taken,
the chain saw’s teeth
blazing through rings of time
a shrill razor tearing the air
with the hot roar of combustion
a kind of fury
an emblem of extinction
howling in the woods.”
He’s able to remember these snapshots in time that he then imbues with artistic flourishes.
“They’re visual memories,” Sabukewicz said.
And he concedes there are times when he finds fodder for his writings in his dreams.
“There are times I would swear there is someone else dreaming inside of me, because some of the things I have seen in my dreams I never could have thought about,” Sabukewicz said.
But the material doesn’t always flow out of Sabukewicz like a waterfall. He gets writer’s block, just like everyone else. At those times, he takes the advice of one of a former chemistry teacher, who advised him to leave a problem after a while to allow the mind to work on a solution while he’s doing something else.
“It has really worked for me,” Sabukewicz said. “I’ve been writing long enough to know my psyche is always at work on something.”
Sabukewicz will read from his new book of poems on Wednesday, April 27, at 7:15 p.m., at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society sanctuary at 2 Duane Court in Middlebury. The Vermont Book Shop will provide copies of “In Sleep’s Circumference” for sale.
He believes he’s got more poetry books in him.
“I just don’t think I can stop writing,” Sabukewicz said.
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