Archive for Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The bard of Linwood

Restaurant owner spins reflections of life in poetry

March 7, 2007

It takes a quiet place to write a poem, said Linwood businessman and poet Jeff Coatney.

And it takes at least an hour for him to write a verse. That's probably not long enough, Coatney said.

"Probably if it took longer it would be better," he said, a quick smile lighting his face.

Coatney and his wife, Sharon, own Phoenix Industries, a Linwood firm that manufactures security devices for doors on commercial and industrial buildings.

Next door to Phoenix is another building owned by the Coatneys -- the New Linwood Cafe.

And it's for the cafe that each week Coatney pens a verse to run in the cafe's advertisements that appear in area newspapers.

Some of his verses point out the scenic beauty of the Linwood area, such as this:

"Linwood Road is a pretty place

Filled with sightly country grace.

But it's not just a lovely drive,

There's good food waiting when you arrive."

Other poems speak of life in general. For instance, last week's poem looked at what makes people happy.

"It's more than a paycheck that moves us

and makes us swell with pride

It's the art of making folks happy

that make us feel good inside."

Coatney said he doesn't struggle to find topics to write about because the ideas crop up on their own.

"There's something that just kind of grabs you and makes you look at things in a different way," Coatney said.

He started writing poetry, most of which he described as whimsical or lighthearted, about 10 years ago.

Coatney is quick to say he's not an expert on poetry. But he recalled appreciating T.S. Eliot's poetry when in high school.

Though Coatney's poetry is lighthearted, not everything in his life would have predicted that.

Coatney, who is 64, spent his early years in Kansas City, Kan. His family moved to Linwood before his senior year of high school. Coatney attended his first year of college at Kansas State University and then transferred to Emporia State Teachers College, where in the middle of his senior year two events changed his life.

"I ran out of money and I got drafted," Coatney said.

He spent nearly six years in the Army, beginning as a private and leaving as a captain.

In Vietnam he flew helicopters.

"I was shot down three times," Coatney said.

"The people who were on the ground who were shooting continued to shoot," Coatney said. "I managed to get far enough away from them before it went down. Nobody was captured. The people that were with me I think were lucky too, because no one was ever seriously hurt on my aircraft."

When he was in Vietnam, Coatney said, it didn't occur to him that he might not make it back home.

"I think it was probably a lack of imagination on my part," Coatney said. "I couldn't imagine not coming out of any situation I was in."

But some of his friends didn't come home.

"I lost some friends and I still think about them," Coatney said, tears welling in his eyes as he gripped his mug of coffee. "But what's past is past and there's nothing that can be done. A lot of good people lost their lives, and I think that's true on both sides of the conflict."

Having participated in the Vietnam War, Coatney expressed concerned about the United States' involvement in Iraq.

"I think the initial invasion of Iraq was probably well planned and executed, but there was no serious thought given to the aftermath," Coatney said. "It was just assumed that peoples' continued reaction would be to welcome the soldiers who saved the people from Saddam. I think by all accounts there was a great deal of gratitude to the American troops in the beginning."

He said though, that in general our nation doesn't understand the tradition of resistance Muslims have toward people whom they consider to be infidels.

"I think that at this point there's little we can do to change hearts and minds," Coatney said. "Attitudes have hardened and solidified, and we find ourselves in a position of being afraid to hang on and afraid to let go. Either way we are going to be diminished by the result."

A matter of time

As Coatney speaks, his right hand quivers. It's a symptom of the Parkinson's disease he fears will change his life.

"Retirement is becoming a more and more alluring option," Coatney said. "There are things that I want to do that I just don't have time to do."

For instance, writing poetry.

And, composing music.

"I write songs," Coatney said. "That's really where the poetry came from is songwriting."

He composes songs on his electric keyboard. It's a passion for him -- writing religious songs and any other kind of music that comes to mind.

He records the music and sings the lyrics for CDs he keeps in his car.

Like his poetry, the songs have a cheerful lilt.

"I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to do it," Coatney said of recording his music. "I'm starting to lose some control of my hands and I know it's going to be a matter of time until I'm not able to do that anymore."

Published poet

Meanwhile, Coatney continues work at his manufacturing business. He looks forward to introducing more people to the Linwood area and to the New Linwood Cafe. He's a familiar site at the restaurant -- a tall man in brown work boots, blue denim jeans and jacket, topped with a brown suede cowboy hat not for looks, he said, but for doctor-recommended sun protection.

And his poems are becoming a familiar site in area newspapers. Occasionally, Coatney said, new diners from out of town come to the restaurant, saying they were intrigued by his poetry and wanted to visit.

Coatney takes his poetic talent, and his newfound visibility, in stride.

"I get a kick our of seeing the ads in print," Coatney said with a slow smile and a twinkle in his eyes. "That's one way to get published."

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