Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cottonwood Summer

     This lovely afternoon in early summer, with all around the faint sounds of moving water and rustling leaves. And lots of birds, doves, red-wings, Brewer's blackbirds, calling quail. I brought books and a notebook out of doors. For a long time I watched a first-year house sparrow hop about on the cement underneath the feeder, picking at the seed spilled by the quarreling red-wings. He was hopping on one leg, because the other was a stick maybe one inch long, without a foot. He was very nimble, and if I hadn't been that close, I would not have noticed anything.

      Biting off more than I can possibly chew, I began then to read The Lives of the Poets by Michael Schmidt, Vintage, 1998, 2000, 975 pages. Nine hundred seventy five! It's a history of poetry in English roughly from before Chaucer to Paul Muldoon and Derek Walcott and beyond. Includes lots of Americans and colonials, judges and compares and places them in contexts, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism when it came out. That one could even attempt to know, discuss, all of them in one book knocks me out!

     Here is the epigraph (I am becoming ever fonder of epigraphs!)
to the third (out of sixty-three!) section "The Anthology" (Page 12, The Lives of the Poets.)

One could abandon writing
for the slow-burning signals
of the great, to be, instead
their ideal reader, ruminative,
voracious, making the love of masterpieces
superior to attempting
to repeat or outdo them,
and be the greatest reader in the world.

       Derek Walcott, "Volcano"

     Of course, if we have read him, we know Derek aims very high! Here is a link to his Paris Review Interview. Walcott gave a workshop once in San Jose. He never got to my poem so it was not discussed in the group. It had my address on it and I later got a nice letter from a member of the workshop who had liked the poem. That was the only time that ever happened to me. Later on, for instance at the Foothill Writing Workshops, the rule was to pass the poems back to the poet after the discussion. Quite a few of these manuscripts were marked with a copyright symbol, which always made me giggle (to myself) since I had seen so much poetry being passed around safely without intellectual property theft. Steal it! I wanted to shout, make it famous! The other thing I remember about Walcott was his habit of hitching up his pants by grabbing his belt with both thumbs right behind each hipbone, and giving it a rough tug, and a shake. He's a great poet, I'll have to find something else of his to use here.

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