Let me get on thing straight here: I am completely biased. If there is an out-of-control little league dad when it comes to poetry competitions, that would be me. My son’s name is “Seamus” in part because my dad’s name is James and his mom is Irish. James in Gaelic is “Seamus” so it seemed a fair compromise. But in the back of my head I also had Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who was announced the 1995 noble prize winner in literature just months before my Seamus was born in April of 1996.
My Seamus at 15 is a starting outside linebacker, a serious tennis player, and a young man I am proud to call son. He also has an interest in poetry and public speaking and even politics. He won his school’s spoken poetry contest qualifying him for the state-wide semi final today. He was one of 21 contestants in the Greater Boston region.
When we arrived, I was shocked to realize that he was one of only two boys in the contest. And both boys attend all-boys schools, meaning girls had made a clean sweep of coed schools in the city. How could that be? I asked myself.
The two hours of students speaking poems was magical. Topics of race and gender and love and loss moved me greatly.
And then it was time for the all female panel of judges, save one guy, to decide who would go on. I wasn’t really that nervous because of how well Seamus had done. But names were read and he was not among those selected.
My boy was robbed! was my first thought. I even wondered out loud whether being a white male contestant had somehow counted against him with the largely female and African-American contestants and judges. But then I came to my senses (in part thanks to a tongue thrashing by 17 year-old daughter in the car). Yes, more boys should have been there. But historically speaking white male poets don’t really need an affirmative action program.
During Seamus’s recitation of “Calling Him Back From a Layoff,” I noticed an older African-American man in the front nodding his head and muttering affirmations like he was in some kind of gospel revival. I asked Seamus afterwards whether the feedback had bothered him and he smiled. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I don’t care what the judges say I was here to reach the hearts and minds of the audience.”
And that he did. Perhaps he does have a future in politics after all.
Calling Him Back From Layoff