For Blue Springs poet Cameron Morse, three specific moments stand out: the time he first wrote a poem at age 13, receiving his 2014 cancer diagnosis and holding his published book.
As a child, Morse remembers borrowing his mother’s typewriter to narrate the hypothetical and fantastical adventures of Spider-Man, spies and religious figures. This interest carried through to college and beyond, when Morse would write poems every day and send them to friends, even after he left America and went to teach English in China.
After two years of leading classes at Beijing New Talent Academy, Morse and his wife, Lili, were visiting family in Blue Springs when a life-changing seizure struck. Morse learned he had glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer that begins with tumors in the brain. But in the midst of tragedy, shock and chaos – Morse recalls packing up “the accumulation of [his] first two years of marriage, including Lili’s wedding dress” – Morse’s permanent return to Blue Springs also marked a more committed return to poetry.
“With a median life expectancy of 14 and a half months, I decided to apply to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and pursue a master’s of fine arts,” Morse recollected. “I wanted to join a community of poets and get serious about the craft.”
Within this program and over the course of three years, Morse turned his diagnosis into a manuscript. He described the process as a sort of “playground,” where having fun with language gave him a rare sense of control and freedom. He wondered if chemotherapy, radiation and blood draws – the somber and technical vocabulary of his daily life – could begin to feel playful.
When Glass Lyre Press, an independent literary publisher, agreed to publish the manuscript, Morse wasn’t done revamping the serious and personal into something fun. Morse entitled the collection “Fall Risk,” then designed the cover using his own brain scans from Saint Luke’s Imaging. From there, he waited – until the day when 76 copies of the book arrived at his door.
“My wife and I laid them all out on the carpet in my study and made sure of the exact count,” Morse said. “It's unreal to hold a glossy-covered, professionally crafted, final product of poems you knew when they were just ideas.”
“Then they feel done, launched into a world that’s going to be kind, cruel or indifferent. The book is in your hands and so finally out of your hands at the same time.”
But the response to “Fall Risk” has been kind in Blue Springs and elsewhere. The book received the 2018 Glass Lyre’s Editor’s Choice award, the publisher’s best book award.
Morse also read and held a book release party at Inklings’ Books and Coffee Shoppe, where he is part of a poetry workshop. Through this workshop, Inklings’ owner and writer Eve Brackenbury has become a strong supporter of his work.
“Cameron being here is meant to be,” Brackenbury shared. “It is inevitable that he would discover his hometown bookstore after returning from China. His involvement in the workshop has transformed our poetry community.”
To buy Morse’s book, “Fall Risk,” visit Glass Lyre Press’s website, glasslyrepress.com.