Posts Tagged ‘an everyday thing’

I’m pleased to welcome Nancy Richardson, author of the poetry collection An Everyday Thing, to Diary of an Eccentric today to share a poem from the book and the inspiration behind it. Please give her a warm welcome!

Notes on a Poem

     by Nancy Richardson

 An Everyday Thing

 notes of the students’ lawyers, Kent State Trial


one round was fired on the hill.

what did they say?

you can see smoke in the pictures.

good hair, the jury likes him.

find the impeaching part.

cause she’s so pretty

watch out for hearsay and conclusions.

did you see anyone carry any bodies?

he put the blame on me for his fuck-up.

you have any phenobarbital?

he gave the order to kneel and take aim.

if he hadn’t heard the order to fire.

he’s getting scattered, tell him to sit down.

can you help me cash my paycheck?

one person in troop G emptied their whole clip.

he’s been ineffective lately.

the net gain is clearly worth the cost.

he had his hand on his holster.

Bill was not dead there.

I yawn to mask my true sentiments.

when you play in the mud you get dirty.

say thanks to Charlie.

isn’t death an everyday thing for everyone?

he said if they rush us shoot them.

how come you’re saving all the notes?

This poem is a found poem constructed from the real notes of the students’ lawyers in the Kent State civil trial of 1975. I moved to Kent in the summer of 1970, three months after 13 students had been shot by the National Guard. Four students died and one was paralyzed. Others had significant wounds.  The campus was swarming with undercover agents from various organizations and a large number of student resistors. Students and several organizations that promoted justice began the process of sorting through the various theories of what had occurred in order to bring the shooters to justice. This turned out to be an arduous and unsuccessful process in Ohio, where support for the Vietnam War was strong and suspicion of student activists was high.  The students lost the civil trial of 1975 and later received a pittance of a settlement from the State of Ohio.

My sister, Galen Lewis, was the chief researcher and paralegal for the trial.  She and her partner, Joseph Lewis, Jr., who had been shot at Kent State, moved from Ohio to Oregon in 1975. Both became active in social justice causes.  Galen became ill and died in 1990.  Although many of the documents from the Kent State shooting were given to Yale University, these notes remained in her possession and she gave them to me.

In sorting through them, I began to realize that the notes told a story and that the story would make a poem.  I struggled a bit to select the important notes and to arrange them in an order which would require the reader to develop a sense of the background theme of the trial without having that theme explained in the poem. The notes would also provide a sense of how the lawyers felt about themselves and the defendants in the charged atmosphere of the trial.  The question “isn’t death an everyday thing for everyone?” is a striking statement, both philosophical and surprising.  I assume that this was a statement characterizing the strategy of the defendants lawyers in minimizing what had occurred and in characterizing the shootings as accidental. This poem was the beginning of a series my poems on the Kent State shootings and illustrates how little progress we have made over 48 years in coming to terms with our propensity for guns and violence.


About An Everyday Thing

Richardson’s poems concern coming of age in the rust-belt of Ohio during a period of decay of the physical and political structures that made the region once solid and predictable. Her poems chart the shifting of the foundations upon which a life is built and the unpredictability of events that have profound personal and political consequences, including the shootings at Kent State University.

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About the Poet

Nancy Richardson

Nancy Richardson’s poems have appeared in journals anthologies. She has written two chapbooks. The first, Unwelcomed Guest (2013) by Main Street Rag Publishing Company and the second, the Fire’s Edge (2017) by Finishing Line Press concerned her formative youth in the rust-belt of Ohio and the dislocation, including the Kent State shootings that affected her young adulthood. In An Everyday Thing, she has included those poems and extended the narrative to memories of persons and events and the make a life.

She has spent a good deal of her professional life working in government and education at the local, state, and federal levels and as a policy liaison in the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Education and for the Governor of Massachusetts. She received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College in 2005 and has served on the Board of the Frost Place in Franconia, NH. Visit her website.


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Thank you, Nancy, for being my guest today, and congratulations on the release of An Everyday Thing!

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