What was the inspiration for your piece? What compelled you to write it?
I wrote “Cocoa Beach” about a frightening close call I had in my early 20s when a car full of men tried to abduct me. I never told anyone about it (not even my roommate that night) because I was deeply ashamed and thought it was my fault. I should not have dared to walk alone after dark, should not have assumed I had any right to safety as a woman. I tried to forget about the event, and when I read the poem now it seems almost as if it happened to someone else.
I had come of age on an Air Force base in the California desert where it was so safe my girlfriends and I walked home from the teen center at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Rattlesnakes, not men, posed the only threat.
Everything changed that night in Cocoa Beach. I realized in one blinding moment that I would never again be safe, that men would always hold the potential of danger, that I could never let my guard down.
Why did you choose this particular form or genre for this piece?
I’m a narrative poet, and it’s considered somewhat difficult to tell a story in a pantoum, but I like a challenge. I thought the form’s recurring lines and repetition could help me create the needed tension and allow me to fill in the story despite the fuzziness of many details decades later. It was painful to write because I experienced the fear again, but the puzzle-like challenge of the form itself provided the biggest obstacle. I revised it for about a year before I was satisfied, which is pretty fast for me.
As a writer, do you feel obliged to share difficult experiences? Why?
I don’t feel any obligation to write anything. I have found, though, that if I’m not tackling something I feel strongly about, I won’t have the stamina to work to perfect the poem and it will lack heart. So I try to be brave, go deep and be honest, no matter how painful it is. Otherwise, it’s not worth the effort.
What would you say to another writer who has been uncomfortable or silent about their experience? How can they begin to share their experiences?
I would encourage tentative writers to try not to worry about what anyone will think when they write, to turn off their internal censor, write the poem just for them and see where it takes them -- not every poem is successful anyway. If it’s strong, then they can decide if they should share it. It’s also useful to try “hiding” in a persona poem.
Terry Godbey has published four poetry collections: Hold Still, finalist for the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award; Beauty Lessons, winner of the Quercus Review Poetry Book Award; Behind Every Door, winner of the Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Contest; and Flame. A winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award, she has published more than 150 poems in literary magazines and works as a freelance writer in Orlando, FL. Also a photographer, she wanders in woods and wetlands every chance she gets. See more of her writing and photos at www.terrygodbey.com.