Editor’s Note: As stated in the Journals Poetry Contest guidelines, the contest was open to all entrants. The contest was judged by a head judge and a committee of nine, all of whom reside out-of-state. Names and addresses were not included in the submissions to the judges. Johnny Dove’s poem was selected by unanimous decision as the winning entry.
When Johnny Dove arrives home after working the night shift, he takes a moment to write a few lines of poetry before turning in for the morning.
This habit is “almost like a release for me,” said Dove. “I’ll get a feeling for a poem and it just flows.”
That wasn’t the case when he tried his hand at writing a poem that included the Journals contest’s mandatory line “When April’s gentle winds blow tender leaves.”
“I wrote other poems with the line in it right off the bat and none of them felt right,” Dove said, who lives in Hinton.
Then he remembered a poem he had written a year ago, “The World To Come,” about a friend getting married. Dove, who was going through a divorce, said the imagery of fire and ice expressed his feelings about relationships. “I saw this wonderful change that had happened in his life. [His fiancé] had the fire and literally changed him. The human condition is like ice and we all do want the warmth of that fire that connects.”
Once added, the required line “seemed perfect,” Dove said. “Like a line of hope. It seemed to fit there.”
This was the first poetry contest Dove has entered.
His interest in writing poetry began as a middle school student, when he was spellbound by Michigan’s former poet laureate Max Ellison, who gave school programs in the area.
“I think that man had the greatest influence on me. When I heard him read the words he wrote, the words became alive, I mean alive,” Dove said. “When I’d read those words on paper, I could still hear his voice and that made poetry come alive and I said, ‘I want to have that voice.’”
Since then, Dove estimates he has written more than a thousand poems.
“They aren’t all good,” he said, laughing. “I’ve written a lot of bad poetry. You just don’t pop out a writer.”
Other influences on his writing include his children. Daughter Jennifer Coppola, a graduate of The College of William & Mary, “is such a life force.” And Dove’s son, Nicky who is autistic, also is an inspiration.
“When you have an autistic child, it changes your whole world. You have to look at things differently,” Dove said. “You have such great love for them, but you don’t know if they are feeling it or giving it back. The parent feels so isolated. It’s a mixture of loss, pain and love. I’ve written a few things about him and autism. But it’s so personal, I don’t share it too much.”
And his Christian faith “actually helps me write,” he said. “ The world is a dance of humanness and holiness. It’s a dance with God.”
Dove graduated from James Madison University with a degree in history, which he still prefers reading more than poetry books.
Working nights as a pressman at the Daily News-Record, Dove said, keeps him “isolated from the literary community” or networking with other poets.
After Dove writes a poem, he’ll put it down for “a little bit” and then re-examine it later to see if he’s chosen the right words to communicate what he wants to convey.
“I’ll tinker with it,” he said. “You’ve got to almost.”
The only advice he’d give new poets is to keep writing and believing you have something to share.
“And, definitely, if you’re writing poetry, Dove said, “don’t expect to make money.”
The World To Come
The world was ice
And you had a fire.
You allowed me to sit
On a rock beside you.
We hovered over the
Warmth, talking little
In the beginning,
Speaking more as the
Flames soothed our fears,
Teeth chattering less when the cold
Held no sway on our hearts.
You whispered gently,
"April's gentle winds blow ten-der leaves."
I lifted my eyes up from the
Flames to your face, your eyes,
And found myself looking into
A world where there was no ice.