DADE CITY — Each week, the Withlacoochee River comes calling for Wendell Speer.
He drives down to the Pasco County park that bears the river’s name and walks along its banks. He reflects on his days swimming there as a boy, his nights partying there as a teenaged hippie. He thinks about the tranquility it provides him now at 62.
And thanks to the Pasco County Parks Department, he can remind others of the river’s power, too.
The agency put up a sign this summer enshrining a poem Speer wrote about the Withlacoochee. It’s posted next to the canoe launch, where on a recent afternoon the Dade City man talked about his writing.
"It really just started coming to me in pieces," he said, cicadas droning around him. "A rhyme or a thought might come into my head, and I just play around with it and build on it for the whole poem."
Speer wrote the poem last year, packing images of the river bit-by-bit into stanzas. The trick is to say the most using the fewest words.
"If a novel is a ground war," he said, "a poem is a nuclear bomb."
He uploaded his piece to Facebook, and friends told him it captured the scenery well. In April, he approached members of the park crew and pitched the idea of posting his poem on a sign. In May, it became reality.
"It was a beautiful poem," said Cristina Cordon, parks superintendent, and accents the experience for guests. "A lot of people love that poem."
The piece devotes careful detail to the natural life surrounding the river.
"Though wild in swampy wilderness,
You at times will higher banks caress," go two lines.
"Untamed, but gentle, where wily otters splash,
Alligators bellow and with each other clash," go two more.
The poem is part of a series Speer is writing about the region, which can be found on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Dade-City-Poems-323101394856579.
He grew up in Dade City as the youngest of six kids. In 1978, he left for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where he studied film theory. In 1988, he moved to Poland and stayed until 2002, when he moved back home. That was when he "renewed my communion with the river."
"I’ll come here and stand or sit on the dock, just kind of watching the river flow," he said. "Maybe talk to people who are fishing or just enjoying being here."
He hopes one of his works can become the first-ever, official Dade City poem. He wants to see if other parks along the Withlacoochee might post his piece about the river.Like all authors, he’s angling to get published and maybe make a name or a buck for himself.
In the end, he said, chuckling, "they can throw my ashes in the river one day."
Contact Justin Trombly at [email protected] Follow @JustinTrombly.