On my first day of Creative Writing class with Jeff Hardin, he told our room of eclectic and eccentric students: “You’re writing for now, and you’re writing for later.” I was hardly aware of how that quote, that class, and that man would change my path into the one that I’m now walking. He asked us once, who had given us permission to “play in the game [of writing];” and though there were others who have lovingly encouraged my love of writing over the years, it was Hardin, who looked at me, and said, “Yeah, you can write poetry.”
Jeff Hardin was raised in Savannah, Tennessee, and is an eighth generation descendent of the county’s founder. He received degrees from Austin Peay State University and the University of Alabama. Hardin teaches English at Columbia State Community College– where I first encountered him and was his student for two semesters. He has amassed some 500+ publications, and has birthed two books of poems, Fall Sanctuary, and Notes For a Praise Book.
I’m struggling, more than usual, to convey the importance of this particular poet, for he has been more influential to me than a mere poem on a page. He is a friend to trees, to old waterways, to the last light of a sunset, to the voice of a guitar, to tomorrow, to grace. And I’m blessed to say he is a friend to me.
Seed Heads Bursting Gold Light
We need to busy ourselves with memorizing autumn
in the puddles down the drive. A single
forgotten reflection makes all the others tremble.
I didn’t think twice as a boy, lying prostrate
to watch a dandelion bend with the breeze.
Amazing! I knew already what to do with my life.
I’d wager Solomon, had he lived nearby,
would have taken long walks in the sage grass field,
just to watch how seed heads burst with gold light.
I’m an advocate of letting things lean as they must.
When one tree rests its dying toward another,
I go among them to listen in and take my place.
No big difference, I say, between years that lean that way
and a shared gaze between me and some friend’s eyes.
Some weakness unspoken may be the strongest voice we have.
I smile as I read, because this poem is such a prime look into exactly who Hardin is. He says it himself, “I knew already what to do with my life,” as he identifies that noticing and bringing attention to the beauty found in the smallest, simplest of things is an integral part of him. His attention to detail is lovely; I’m there, and I can see each moment frozen in a photograph rich with emotion–the “trembling” puddles down the leaf-speckled drive or the delicate seed heads lifting into the dying sun. “I’m an advocate of letting things lean as they must,” is a line that encourages us to accept life as it comes. The poet reminds readers, as if they were young maple trees pushing into the wind, to embrace those especially unique things about oneself. Because Hardin and I both know that it’s in those things that everyone’s particular loveliness is found. Spend some time paying attention and celebrating the distinctive elements of today. Take your place among the woods that are beginning to burn with color, put your hands to the bark and character of the trees you pass, nod your head to life’s cycle of death and rebirth, and raise your “strongest voice.”
For more Hardin reading, you can utilize the following links to his personal website, blog, a feature on Still: The Journal, an interview with Shane Toombs, a review of Fall Sanctuary, and a poem feature and a review of Notes From A Praise Book on Chapter 16’s website.