My Early Poetic Influences: Fred W. Moeckel 1929 – 1966

28 Jun
June 28, 2012

From the age of 11 to 18, I lived in a children’s home in Cromwell, Connecticut.  Even though  Fred Moeckel joined the staff as a boys’ counselor around the time I was in the eighth grade, he was always kind and friendly to us girls.

I loved to be around Bud (his nick name) for many reasons.  He taught us silly songs like “I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.”   He was always sketching cartoons, even though he wouldn’t do a caricature of me.  “Why?” I asked.  “Well, you don’t have any odd features,” he laughed.  We always wondered where he disappeared to on his day off—for when he returned, there were paintings under his arm or a sheaf of poems tucked into his pocket—not to mention a camera slung over his shoulder.

Most of all, I loved his poetry.   Once I asked him how he could make so many poems.  His answer was something like, “Well you think of two things that might go together, and you make a poem out of them!”  Back then, I didn’t understand.

One of my fondest memories of Bud is of long summer afternoons down by our swimming hole.  Instead of “life-guarding” us, he’d be engrossed in poetry writing and sipping coffee from the hot pot he carried with him.  Meanwhile, about thirty or so of us kids would be swimming away, dunking each other, doing tricks off the diving board or perhaps ramming the raft with our ten-foot water log!  Many years later while on vacation, I, too, carried a steaming pot of coffee down to a beach with me—to help wile away a cool morning reading my books or writing letters.

Bud published three books of poetry in his short life—the first of which is my favorite—One Voice Two (New York: Exposition Press, 1964).  Many of the poems evoke memories of wonderful  summer days  of swimming and playground fun with other children who lived at the home—especially the boys about whom our beloved poet-friend wrote.   A favorite of mine is “S-U-M-M-E-R” (page 32):

The smell of child sweat
sweet as bubblegum,
the prickle of white heat
evaporating from
the slightest bird’s wing-tremble breath,
the glass beads of freckled words
spell summer…

The poem “Ritual” (page 51) captures a familiar, happy scene of childhood:

Thief-quick boys
upset the poise
of young girls, sun-
bathing; they run
scattering heel-
high sand to steal
whatever loose thing
a girl must bring
to swimming.  To show off—
the boys, by a throw of
each girl’s belonging,
begin a singsonging
tease:  out of reach,
over the head of each
victim.  At last,
the game of it past,
the tormentors hand
all contraband
back.  For their part,
the girls, though hurt
today, will bring
small things
with them tomorrow
for the boys to borrow
and steal and play catch
with while the girls watch.

I remember Bud’s sensitivity to our childhood hurts—having been comforted by him the best he could manage when other adult counselors came down too hard on us.  Here’s a poem—”Gone from Gladness Wholly” (page 29)—that illustrates what Mark Van Doren called Bud Moeckel’s “…intimate relation with all things”:

Heavy to the lone child lying hidden
beneath the underside and veins
and pigeon-fruit of grape leaves, the gains
of joy are lost to an unbidden
child-reflective melancholy;
and he is gone from gladness wholly,
grieving as only a lone child grieves
in the silken comfort of silver leaves.

Fred W. Moeckel attended North Park College and its theological seminary.  He graduated magna cum laude from the Hartford Art School in 1959—even though he became blind during his final year.  At the time of his death in 1966 from complications of diabetes, he was a rehabilitation counselor for the blind.

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12 replies
  1. Joan says:

    Yes, he was a gift to us for the short time he lived in this life. My favorite Moeckel poem is “Snow is the Hand of Christ” from RECORDING ANGEL (Covenant Press, Chicago 1969): Snow is a benediction/ in which the hurt fingers/ of earth touch at heaven,/ and no sin lingers./ Snow is the hand of Christ/ blessing the dark ground,/ forgiving the sins of earth/ with a small sound.

    Reply
  2. Siobhan Senier says:

    What a beautiful tribute to an old friend and mentor! Also, I’m always intrigued by the way you tell your story, finding these moments of connection and joy in an otherwise sad childhood experience. Now I know at least one person who taught you how to put those two things together! Thanks for sharing his words, and yours.

    Reply
  3. Linda Boyden says:

    What beautiful words he penned. I am richer for reading them. Thanks, Alice.

    Reply
  4. gaye g.p says:

    How lucky you were to be exposed to Good & Nearby poetry in your youth. I, alas, had to wait way too long to find out about ee cummings–and he was certainly NOT nearby and open for conversation.

    Reply
  5. Fred Hatfield says:

    So, Buddy and I went tromping through the woods on the way to a pond behind his house in Naugatuck. He promised to show me how to draw landscapes. Sitting down under a tree, he tore a piece of paper into 4 strips, and laid them out so a square inch of ground was framed by the paper strips. Instructing me, he said, “Fred, I want you to draw that square inch of ground.” He trotted off to the pond, and I set out to capture the essence of that tiny bit of earth. About an hour passed, and I had a small pile of crumpled papers beside me. Buddy came up behind me and looked over my shoulder to see what was on my paper. His face grew somewhat ashen and, clearly upset he said to me, “Fred, you want to paint all of this” as he waved his arm in a large circle to emphasize the totality of creation around us, “and you can’t even draw one tiny INCH of it?”

    Reply
  6. Denise Low says:

    I appreciate this homage. So many people contribute to our upbringing. This honors one of the great teachers, and without his moments in your life, would you have been the same person? Probably not.

    Reply
  7. Fred Hatfield says:

    I visited Buddy at Yale New Haven Hospital just before he died. He was delirious, for the most part, but recognized me and grasped my hand. He wouldn’t let go, and repeated this line to me over and over: “Remember the rose and the beautiful woman.” I never did figure out what he meant.

    Reply
  8. Alice Azure says:

    Thanks for your remembrance, Fred. For my part, I remember when Jerry Toll and I visited Bud in his room at the Home. There were tree branches arranged all over the place…piles of books, stacks of records on the floor, etc.. Today I guess we would call it a man cave. Astonished by the unorthodox arrangement of art, books and records all over the place, I asked, “Buddy, will you keep your room like this when you get married?”

    “Yes,” he replied, smiling at my innocent question.

    Another remembrance that practically makes me weep. I had finished painting my third floor room at the Home–and Carol and I purchased new bedspreads. Buddy showed up one afternoon soon thereafter with a stack of his paintings. “Which one do you want for your new room?” he asked. I went through them all. And do you know I replied in the stupidist manner that I have regretted all of my life? “None”, I said. “I can’t find one that matches the paint.” Buddy angrily (or sadly?) gathered up the paintings and stomped back down the stairs. That is why I am without one of his paintings. Hard lesson. Years later, not even his sister, Joan, would let me purchase one when I practically begged to do so.

    Reply
  9. Claire says:

    Alice,
    A very nice tribute to Buddy. On occasion I re-read his poetry, which always brings back fond memories. I am lucky to have one of his oils, titled ‘the Paperboy’ and somplace in my attic a couple of pen and inks.

    Reply

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