Written by Shontay Luna
My Paternal Grandparents were a major part of my childhood. My father died when I was ten months old. He was in a crowded bar on a Friday night when someone, angry for who knows what reason, stormed inside firing shots in search of someone else. I used to say it was mistaken identity, but it really was a case of ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
My Grandmother was under five feet tall but her heart was bigger than her height. Her smile lit up whichever room she was in. The drugstore knew her by name from all the pictures she needed developed.
My Grandfather, though stern joyously gave a hearty laugh if the story was funny enough. He towered over me most of my life. I believe he took the situation seriously, having to be the Father Figure since my father was gone.
Along with my mother, I credit them with everything that is good in me. They taught me the dignity of work, staying on the right path and facing Life head-on, no matter the circumstance.
In later years, I saw firsthand how time changed the body and life in the process. A myriad of changes occurring. They stayed home more often, venturing out mostly for doctor’s appointments. I helped by bringing groceries every couple of days and take my Grandmother for her checkups.
Though it was a lot at the time as I juggled shuffling around school age children; rushing to grocery shop, clean, cook and run errands while they were at school. I never felt burdened. I felt honored. They took care of me, now it was my turn to take care of them. I did what I could.
I find the creative process like a lump of clay. To me, it’s never concrete and direct. I find it ambiguous, depending on how I’m feeling at the moment. I try to write everyday, even if it’s just a couple of pages. On the days I don’t, I try to read works of other poets because I believe no poet is so great they can’t learn from another’s work. Some of my favorites are Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Lucille Clifton. But the poem that made me want to write poetry was “Howl.” The first time I heard it, my mind was blown.
I usually free-write for a bit, letting the pen run. I handwrite, then type into Google Drive afterwards. I can only write about three pages before my hand starts hurting a bit but I get the greatest sense of satisfaction when I do. I’m usually on my bed, laying on my right side (I’m left-handed.) With legal pads and gel pens, both of which I find myself buying constantly. Sometimes I go back to older stuff and re-edit.
Editing is a constant. Sometimes I wrote them days, weeks, even years ago. And there’s always room for improvement. I like to think I create an even mix of free verse and forms – some of my favorites are Villanelle and Sestina.
Writing My Book
The idea for my book, as stated in the Preface, originated from a conversation I had on Twitter about old phrases. At the moment I only recalled two that my Grandparents used – “I’m hip” and “Between you, me and the gatepost.” Upon mentioning them, I thought how cool it would be to create poems based upon the time of their ‘heyday.’ I bought a slang dictionary, which I ended up making a reverse dictionary to find everything quicker, scouring websites, comparing listings.
Though I originally wanted to do it in 40s lingo only, I expanded it from 1920s through 1940s to have a more varied vocabulary. My Grandparents were born in 1917 and 1924; marrying around 1947. And so I expanded the range.
Writing the poems, though in different language was the easy part. The most difficult part was getting the layout and content correctly. It’s a very slow, tedious process but well worth it in the end. I poured my heart and soul into this book. I can only hope it appears that I did.
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