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  • Writer's picturePatrick Patton

My First Place Poem

My parents recently moved, which meant I was bombarded with old memories and forgotten treasures from the past that I was forced to sort through, lest they be thrown away in the move. One of the coolest things I found was this book, "Voyages of Discovery," which was an anthology of award winning writers from the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education's Writing Celebration contest in 2001. Inside this book was a poem I wrote in ninth grade entitled, "Reading by the Lake," which won first place in the ninth grade poetry category.

At the time, I was so embarrassed by this poem and the last thing I wanted to do was show it to anyone. If you'd like to hear that story, you can continue reading, but if you want to skip the story and just read the poem, feel free to scroll down to the bottom. Just keep in mind that this poem was written a long time ago, before I ever considered myself a writer, so I'm not sharing it because it's a great piece of literature, but because it is a special part in my own writing journey. To me, sharing this poem feels a lot like Peter Parker showing off his first homemade Spider Man suit.

Back in the ninth grade, I was way too "cool" (aka self-conscious) to share my writing with anyone, but my English teacher, Mr. Costello took it upon himself to enter one of my poems into the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education's Writing Celebration 2001 without my knowledge. I found out that my poem had been entered—and that it had in fact won the first place prize for my grade level—via the morning announcements over the school-wide overhead speakers. I didn't feel proud of myself in that moment. Not even a little bit. I felt confused as to how this could have happened, and honestly, I felt very angry. I felt the way one might feel after having been told that an embarrassing photo of them had been circulating around the school.

Having moved to a new city prior to the start of school that year, I was brand new to Paso Robles High School, and I was still trying to figure out exactly where I fit in and how to go about making friends. The name of my award winning poem was "Reading by the Lake," which sounded so lame and effeminate to me at the time. Sure, the real me could take the time to admire and wonder at God's creation, and enjoyed a good read, but that was certainly not the side of myself that ninth grade me wanted to project to my peers. I was a guitar player who wrote and screamed punk rock songs, who blasted Blink 182 and Green Day alone in his room, who skated and wore shorts that started mid-thigh and ended mid-shin. I was mortified at the thought of developing a reputation as a weird, soft, sensitive poet.

My dad and I around 2000 or 2001. He got pretty good at the drums : )

My English teacher asked me to read my first place poem in front of the class, a request that evolved into more of a demand after I repeatedly and belligerently refused to oblige him. He was pushing me to believe in myself and to be confident in my writing, and he did it to the point that my parents finally had to ask him to knock it off at "Back to School Night". Like me, neither of my parents knew the first thing about poetry, but they knew I was embarrassed about what had happened, and they had my back when I asked them for help. After that, my teacher reluctantly allowed me to give up on myself, and to this day, I have never entered another poetry contest.

I still continued to write, but for many years I kept my writing extremely private. I did share some of it with others—mostly punk songs, and later indie rock tunes that I wrote for my band Oh My Land—but most of my writings have been lost to old notebooks that disappeared over the years. By the time my daughter was born in 2009, I'd written many half-finished novels, abondoned screenplays, half-baked graphic novels, sub-par television pilots, etc.; but during that time I had really begun to educate myself on the craft of writing. That year, with fresh inspiration from Stephen King's The Gunslinger, I was determined to do something with all of the knowledge I had gained and I resolved to myself that I would start and—more importantly—finish a novel. The first line I wrote on the page remains, to this day, the first line of The Withering, which is set to be published by Ambassador International in the very near future (release date TBD).

Publicly welcomed into the Ambassador family in September 2020

It took a lot of research, practice, and determination—and even more missteps—to appreciate the work it takes to write a cohesive novel, let alone a good one. In the years since the ninth grade, I've matured and gradually learned to take myself a lot less seriously. When I became a father, I dove headlong into the great joy of embarrassing my own children (it's a thing we dads do—don't ask why, we don't know either), without any care as to whether or not I make a fool out of myself in the process. Along the way, I've found that life has grown more enjoyable as I've grown less concerned with how others perceive me.

I now look at my high school years very differently than I did back then, and while it would be pointless to regret the choices I made as a dumb teenager, I have been able to appreciate what my teacher was trying to do for me, and to recognize that while his method could have been better, he meant only well for me. Ninth grade Patrick wasn't ready to be a writer. He cared about far more important things, like if Kahuna's had any new Volcom or Independent tee shirts, hiding the fact that I was having such a hard time landing kick flips (still never really mastered that one, but I could ollie over three decks), or whether it would be too unoriginal of me to put stickers on the pick-guard of my guitar.

My friend and band-mate Kevin Coons of Candle fame—2000 or 2001

It took me a while to get here, but I'm very proud of the novel I've written and I'm so excited to share it with anyone who is interested in reading it. I'm even quite proud of my poem that was awarded first place in the only poetry contest I've ever entered (to my knowledge).

So without further ado, I'm pleased to present to you:

"Reading by the Lake" by Patrick Patton, ninth grade

The city lights glimmer in the reflection of the lake

Like the stars that form the mighty bear;

And each leaf in its own little space is no mistake,

For the Creator carefully arranged them there.

The mother goose with her young engages in swimming to and fro.

The father goose will watch them from afar.

The bothersome mosquito nears a fate he does not know—

The toad will keep their numbers down to par.

The magnificent bulb, which is the dragon’s claim to sky,

Glows brighter that the light upon my read;

For if I dare to spy, I cannot look away, for I

Come to appreciate this world from which I see.

The lovers on the boat are cuddled tightly in the warm

Of the blanket neatly tucked around the pair;

As I marvel at the life and at the willow’s awkward form,

I wonder if they wonder at the very things that I see there.

As the night grows ever older and my bookmark plays its role,

I bid well-faring to the dwellers of the lake.

The dragonfly gloats gallantly of the performance that he stole,

And the geese honk their goodbyes upon the wake.


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Judy Patton
Judy Patton
May 13, 2021

You know me, I framed that poem and still have it on the wall as a very proud grandmother

Patrick Patton
Patrick Patton
May 13, 2021
Replying to

Yes! And I have the copies you sent me as well! Thank you for those photos too! Those ones of me and my dad and my friend Kevin came from the photo album you made me!

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