Memorial to Donald Murray with Poems: His Time Was Write and Hard Wood Writing

Never a Day Without a Line
When a mentor passes on–A Memorial to Donald Murray

I heard it on the 11 o’clock New Years Day news. Donald Murray died of a heart attack at the age of 82. He had submitted his column ‘Now and Then’ to the Boston Globe the day before he died. He never stopped working, learning or sharing the knowledge he had gained.

My connection to Donald started from a Now and Then column that he had written in late winter which mentioned a spring writing class and one of his favorite bookstores on Water Street in Exeter NH. A heartfelt feeling took me there and I bought the book he suggested and left my information. Fortune smiled and on a Monday nights for six weeks I found myself at Don’s house in Durham with a circle of writers and novices of the craft. Don in his chair teaching by drawing us in and sharing his life and the work he loves. A large man in both stature and heart held court as we listened and learned in a circle where he made us feel equal. No pretense, just the spirit of a man open and true. His words ring true in my head: ‘Find your voice and tune it to the situation’
‘Writing is personal-be as true as possible’
‘The voice must sound like you, if not something is wrong-you may not be close enough to the material’
‘I still sometimes look at the world as a soldier’
‘Write with velocity and lower your standards’
‘Good writers see deep important things about the human condition. They articulate the human condition for those who can not’
‘Surprise is wonderful, I want to surprise myself some more before the road ends’

I met with him three times after the class ended. Twice for breakfast at ‘Young’s’ in Durham where everyone knows his name. The morning after class ended I picked him up at 5:45 AM. He told me he had stayed up all night as enthusiasm about the class, father’s day trip weekend prior, writing, and using his new art supplies would not let him sleep. He insisted on paying for breakfast and said that my turn was next. As I dropped him off at his house and told him to get some rest he answered, ‘after I write a little’. 82 years old, up all night and his motto, ‘nulla dies sine linea’ and work ethic still ruled.
For me he is gone too soon, too fast but he will always be with me. It’s his turn again to buy breakfast and he promised to come for dinner and meet my ‘Maria May.’
He believed in his family, his students, his friends and his colleagues. He gave us a confidence devoid of judgments that we could find our voice and tune it to the situation.
I offer a poem written with Donald in mind and submitted during what would be his last class. He had taken up drawing and painting recently for the sheer joy and surprise of it. The last line was added today.

Hard Wood Writing

Feeling lucid under pressure
Moments of sheer horror and panic do pass
Drawn on ousted emotions to draw-paint words to paper
Form scenes opened felt by me
Acts of art for others to observe-see
A word play called ‘New Hope Spring’
On a clean cool clear and cloudy canvass of Papyrus
Framed pages with words
Book cover borders
Times Temperaments Torments Trusts
Loss and Rebirth
Felt and Palpable on written page
Hopes spring grows and flows
Words in mahogany and oak
A writer’s true rings of hard growth memory
True to a vision of what has come to pass
Hard Wood Writing on soft textured page of one person’s past
Written Word Etched for Eternity by Scribed Survivor
Mahogany Voice Rises from Oaken Experience
From scribbler to Scribe the Survivor Crafts
The soft subtle textured pages of a life’s
Lessons Learned and Shared
Now and Then

His time was write

Found a mentor, ol’ sage, life almost spent

He opened his home, gave a last class

Unconditionally he let us in and shared a successful career

“Write Short, Write Quick,” the mentor said.

The world has changed–attention spans are short sighted

Draw them in, hold them, set them free, with words from the heart

An old man’s spirit shared

His time was write

Now and Then taught me ours is then and now

The road goes on and I will be one of Donald’s Acolytes–Apostles

Nulla dies sine linea–never a day without a line

Share a life til the road ends

To be taken up by a spirit who’s time is write

Copyright by Ken Pothier

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