In a lot of ways, I have regarded my writing and my reading as being the product of some privilege. It’s not altogether traumatic to admit. I’ve considered myself fortunate to stroll beside prodigious architects of the written word, to pick their brains from time to time on issues of note—craft, loss, politics, the sciences. David Biespiel was no exception.
As a post-graduate student in Oregon, I nestled myself firmly under his guidance, but not for his expertise in verse. No, it was his story-telling that drew me in. Behind every line of poetry was a confession, a journey into the perspective of a realist, an east-Texas boy with a hunger for the intricacies of language. Imagine my satisfaction when the stories behind his verses were given a name—The Education of a Young Poet. Biespiel’s memoir delivers with wit and intelligence exactly the kind of inspiration any young writer requires: A voice and a past and a story to tell.
Truly, The Education of a Young Poet has become the appropriate backdrop for Biespiel’s volumes of poetry and prose.
I recall a frigid winter morning in Oregon some years ago, sitting in a too-large-for-the-task classroom as a student, listening to Biespiel compare writing poetry with competitive diving. He cited the fear. The failure. The autonomous nature of the task when it’s all “working out right.” I had little reason to connect the two—being hardly a novice writer and having never stepped foot upon a diving board. But I believed him, as I believe him now, turning the pages of his memoir. And this is David’s gift—the ability to design a literary connection with the reader on his terms.
In the past, I have found fault with memoirs whose real estate extend decades prior to the birth of the author. But in The Education of a Young Poet, which opens in a small Iowa town where his great-grandfather peddled rags for a living, fifty years before Biespiel’s birth, the scene is aptly set. From the onset, the reader is granted permission to journey with the boy from Texas to Boston, from raucous parties to dusty bookstores. At every moment is a reminder of the purpose so poignantly framed: A writer’s craft cannot be separated from a writer’s experience.
Biespiel charmingly weaves stories about his authorial awakening with anecdotes on growing up Jewish in Houston in the 1970s, raging college keggers in the 1980s, the confusing nature of close interpersonal relationships, family, sex, identity, and metamorphosis. Indeed, to say his memoir is simply a reflection or another coming-of-age tale would miss the mark. Biespiel writes as though he is writing for his life. In these pages, he provides context for his previously-published collections of poems on family dynamics, politics, love, history, Americana, for his articles on poetic craft, the role of the writer in modern America, and the political power of verse. It’s all here, tucked neatly behind the story of a Jewish boy from Houston.
Indeed, the memoir feels so prophetic, I had to remind myself I was reading about a writer’s past. Yet, I anticipate the direction Biespiel takes his writing from here, with The Education of a Young Poet paving a creative path and granting ample license to explore, with verse and prose, a new American identity.
After all, it’s what Biespiel does best.