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

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.