Heights resident Dennis Herrell spent his early years living in an 8-by-28 foot trailer home, which caused a domino effect of decisions in his life.
Living in the trailer is what spurred his decision to join the Army, and it’s where he first thought about people having alter egos.
Essentially, it began his road to becoming a poet.
“Poems From My Alter Ego” is Herrell’s sixth book of poetry to be released by Clare Songbirds Publishing House and is currently available for pre-order. The idea of an alter ego, for the 81-year-old Herrell, means the different faces you show to different people. With one person you show one side of your personality. With another person you show a different side.
He kept that in mind when collecting poems for his latest book.
“There’s one face you present to somebody and another face that I present to you: my poet face,” Herrell said. “Another face would be my teaching face. I think everyone’s got different presentations, different aspects of (their) personality.”
Herrell’s childhood was spent in various Texas cities, which landed him in places such as Orange and Victoria. The longest he stayed in one school was during his senior year at Austin High School in Houston, from where he graduated.
During his three years in the Army, Herrell was in the mapping service with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
“I found out very quickly that I did not have the military mindset,” Herrell said. “But I’m glad that I (joined) because I went to Tokyo, and I was in a field that I enjoyed.”
After the service Herrell attended Sam Houston State University, where we received his bachelor’s degree before moving on to Stephen F. Austin State to pursue his master’s degree. But he didn’t complete it due to impending nuptials.
It was during his years in Huntsville that he took a creative writing course and found a passion that for most of his career had to take a backseat. He started out writing short stories and satiric essays, but after falling into a more poetic crowd in Nacogdoches, took up poetry and hasn’t put it down since.
Being a career poet didn’t pay well enough, so Herrell went into teaching English and stayed in it for 10 years.
“I like to say on my good days I taught English, and other days I taught self-discipline,” Herrell said.
He moved from teaching to wholesaling sporting goods to being semi-retired, where he stumbled into being an antique dealer.
Through the years of teaching and selling, Herrell has lived the alternate life of a poet. Over the years, he’s written around 2,000 poems.
“In 2001 I started very seriously sending out my poems to magazines,” Herrell said. “In 2016 I started putting together a manuscript.”
By that time, he had more than 500 poems accepted in magazines. Since 2016, Herrell has put together five poetry books and has 13 eBooks, some full-length and some chapbooks, available for $0.99.
“You wouldn’t believe the rejections you get,” Herrell said. “I probably, over the years, have gotten something like 10,000 rejections. I don’t know, but a lot. You just keep trying.”
When Herrell begins writing a poem, he said his mind just seems to click with it. When he’s writing out one line, the next is already being formed in his mind.
“I can’t understand how my mind works while writing poetry,” Herrell said. “It just works and I accept that.”
His favorite form is Haiku poetry, which is evident in a shirt he owns that reads, “Trust me, I’m a haiku poet.”
But he writes poetry in all forms, mostly free verse, and will play with line spacing and line breaks to enhance a pause or for the poem to look a certain way on the page.
As a self-proclaimed people-watching addict, many of Herrell’s ideas and inspirations come from his observations of the world.
In honor of Sim McCutchan, who died last November and was a good friend to him, Herrell put together an eBook of poems that highlight McCutchan’s life. Since McCutchan worked within the Houston Public Library, and specifically at the Heights Public Library, the eBook is available for free.
The journey that life has taken Herrell, from a trailer to where he resides now in a 1920s bungalow, has been full of good friends, good books and good humor. But having a pen in his hand jotting down lines of poetry has been one of the biggest parts of his life and will continue to be.