2. Sailor Librarian: San Diego
At 17, I graduated from high school, gave up my job
as soda jerk and joined the U.S. Navy. The Korean War
was underway; my mother had died, and Chicago seemed
an oppressive place to be.
My thanks to the U.S. Navy. They taught me how
to type (60 words a minute), organize an office, and
serve as a librarian. In 1952 I served in Korea aboard a
300-foot long, flat-bottomed Landing Ship Tank (LST).
A Yeoman 3rd Class, I became overseer of 1200
paperback books, a sturdy upright typewriter, and a
couple of filing cabinets.
The best thing about duty on an LST is the ship's
speed: 8-10 knots. It takes approximately one month
for an LST to sail between San Diego and Pusan, Korea.
In that month I read Melville's Moby Dick,
Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Thoreau's Walden,
Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales, the King James Version
of the Bible, Shakespeare's Hamlet, King Lear, and a
biography of Abraham Lincoln.
While at sea, I began writing poetry as if poems,
to paraphrase Thoreau, were secret letters from
some distant land.
I sent one poem to a girl named Lorelei with whom
I was in love. Lorelei had a job at the Dairy Queen.
Shortly before enlisting in the Navy, I spent $15 of
my soda jerk money taking her up in a single engine,
sight-seeing airplane so we could kiss and--at the
same time--get a good look at Chicago from the air.
Beautiful Loreli never responded to my poem. Years
later, at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop,
I learned that much of what I had been writing (love
poems inspired by a combination of lust and
loneliness) belonged, loosely speaking, to a
tradition--the venerable tradition of unrequited love.
[excerpted from Foreword to the book FOUR INCARNATIONS and reprinted
in NEW & SELECTED POEMS, Red Hen Press.]
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...