, , , , , , , , , , ,

I started writing poetry at university in Milwaukee, WI. in the midst of my other career as classical pianist & violinist. Poetry activated me and heightened my all-ready profound love of words & writing. But soon, my attentions wavered. Not so much a falling out of favour but, as I see now, powers that needed maturation through living. I continued on with my other artistic careers but last year in a kind of epiphany and mysterious reactivation poetry seized me again – with full and permanent force.

This poem was written last August [2012] and details an uncanny & fortuitous event that forever marked me. The exceptional generosity of the poet Jon Davis, then editor at Cutbank – generous not only for a busy editor of a top journal taking the time and effort to send me seven handwritten pages but also for introducing me to Philip Levine who would become my mentor of sorts.

On this last day of National Poetry Month, I thought it good to seal the month with this poem – more a token of gratitude & respect to Jon and to my muse now – that I am ready.


Seven Handwritten Pages

In those days I was a hotshot. I didn’t say it, of course

The real ones never do. If they do –

Well, I don’t need to tell you…

I could sit anywhere
In that cream city poetry workshop:
In front of the class, in the back – row or aisle

Even in the farthest reaches from poll position

And still cross the finish line first.

This bothered me.

I leapt for Bly, my Hugo was triggering nicely

And for Pablo Neruda and James Wright
It seemed I’d do anything:
Traipse through the corridor of a diamond –

Like a conspirator in nightclothes

Exchanging long, thick kisses on demand.

If that’s what it took. I could steal the show.

This annoyed me.

And I read aloud –
You know – the real work.
And by God they listened. I could bet you

They would. I had this way of tempering my voice just so –

And whether I consonanted, vowelized, aspirated or didn’t –

I weaved a metered spell.

And right towards the end,

Around the last four lines or so
I would bring it home –
Cause the taciturn doves to squirm
From the magician’s cap
Because I knew what was coming:
That moment of summing up
That no poet worth his salts can ever resist –

As sure as the button on a Broadway tune.

I resented knowing that.

Then came the next step.
The sending out into the world.

With hopes that somehow these sheep may safely graze.

Like NoMad Tin Pan songsters pitching tunes
Or the new, nesting clutch’s course on the method of food:

Small presses, chap books and broadsides.

The query, the cover letter, the S.A.S.E. and the yes,
The maybe or the sparsely-splendored degrees of no way.

I sent out Echo’s spitting image
And I asked for any help: “any feedback

Would be greatly appreciated.”

“That’s not the way it’s done.”
I was told.
“You don’t ask for help or advice”
I learned
Ours is not to query why –
Just wait. And wait.

Finally responses came home again – –
Folded envelopes I was no stranger to,
Still vibrating with my offspring
Come home to roost, with notices scarcely the size of streamers

Offering some form or another of regret.

But inside I also found notes from editors scriptum per manum:

“Nice work”, “Please re-submit” and
“Not our style but very fine work”.

I was told that this was rarely done

And once again
I was a welcomed guest
In an undiscovered country.

I earned my teachers’ pride and I was scared.

And even more –
From this editor,
A certain Jon Davis,
A kind yield of interest
And major returns.
His legal-sized envelope
(Not mine on training wheels)
Was full and accommodating to my poems inside –

Creaseless, without compromise.

But there were seven pages more.

Seven handwritten pages more.
In longhand, a letter
And two poems – whose soul, he said, it seemed I shared.

“They Feed They Lion” “Belle Isle, 1949”
I knew these then Somehow

Like I know them now
And though, now, I know this poet’s name

And then I did not
It’s no less strong in the current of things.

I could almost make out –

almost remember
Baptizing myself “in the brine of car parts, dead fish,

Stolen bicycles and melted snow.”
And did remember the unwinking stove factory stacks

And the cold. The moonless cold.

With great promise
Comes great responsibility
And I was young.
So young that muse and angel

Frolicked and thrived
Where duende dared not tread –

And I was, then,
Just far too intoxicated
By the wonder of all things
And the heady aroma of my powers

To voice a full-throttled gallop.

But now I see, hear, smell and touch
And speak and share, tell and show.
The pheromonal bombast has cleared the air

And I do now feel these things I have come to know.