Lawyer-poet, fearful of blindness, writes of darkness

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | JUNE 18, 2009 7:21 AM

Greg Rappleye said he considers poetry “work” because it’s what he cares about. But his day job pays the bills.

“I wish there was a way to make a real living at it because I would love to do this all the time, but there is no money in poetry,” the 56-year-old said.

Rappleye will travel from his hometown of Grand Haven, Mich., to Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., to read from his third and latest book of poems, Figured Dark, today at 7 p.m.

The 56-year-old poet got into the writing game late, receiving an M.F.A. at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina 25 years after attending the University of Michigan Law School.

Aside from funds, time is the other shortage in his poetry career. Rappleye — a father of two — somehow balances writing on his heaping-full plate. He practices law full-time during the day and teaches part-time at Michigan’s Hope College as an adjunct writing instructor.

Rappleye often writes on his Macintosh computer in a furnace room where he is surrounded by a massive collection of 5,000 to 6,000 books. His list of favorite poets includes e.e. cummings and T.S. Eliot, but he says he will read pretty much anything.

Rappleye said he usually wakes up at the same time that his dogs do — early.

“When I’m really going at it, I get up at about 4 a.m., work until 7 a.m., then I get ready to go to work,” he said. “Sometimes, I’ll work at night too. My blog is named Sonnets at 4 a.m., because that’s when I write.”

If the darkest hour is before dawn, the inky theme has made its way to his latest collection beyond the title. Figured Dark includes passages that describe the feeling of blindness, a topic that worries the author in real life.

“One of the reasons I first came to Iowa was for the UI medical school, which has a really good group of doctors for people that have macular degeneration, and I’ve got that kind of problem with my eyes,” he said. “A lot of my poems tend to be concerned with blindness, darkness, and losing light as metaphors … not just for going blind as an individual but just sort of losing your way as a person.”

He frequently writes about sad topics, Rappleye said, but he sometimes focuses on things he finds funny or interesting. His preferred style of writing is hard-hitting and direct.

At present, he is working on a book of poems that tells the story of a real-life painter named Martin Joseph Heade, who traveled to Brazil during the Civil War to paint hummingbirds. Rappleye is also trying his hand at writing a novel, but he said it is only a matter of time before he returns to poetry.

“I want to write a novel just to see that I can do it,” he said. “I’m having fun with it. You can make more money writing novels, but I do see myself coming back and returning to poetry.”

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