Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Poetry Man

And where are the tinkers of yesterday
fixing what no longer works
when we live in an age that replaces
all those things that broke.

And some times even choose
merely to live without.


The toaster menace, I mean repair, reminded me of those lines of poetry I wrote about 40 years ago. They aren't the exact lines because I don't have any of my old writing anymore, but they are pretty close to it. I think I was feeling pretty sorry for myself that I had been dumped one more time. Very elegiac. That is, if elegiac means wimpy.

Later I learned that anger was more interesting than self-pity. When Gloria decided that I was no longer the man of her dreams, I wrote the best poem I ever wrote. It started out:

Witch, make her old like you.
Make her hair fall out in handsful.
Make her skin grow rough and coarse.

Et cetera, et cetera. There was lots more, but you get the idea. There were two problems with that poem. The first was that I completely stole the idea from Diane Wakoski, a truly great poet who had written "I'm Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch". The second problem, as you see by re-reading the first few lines again, is that the curse rebounded and it all ended up happening to me.

I don't write poetry any more. Haven't for years. It all got way too hard somewhere about the time I spent most of my day writing and editing articles about computers. That's not a good excuse, of course. Lots of great poets have held a day job and still gone four-to-the-beat pretty well.

Many poets became university teachers, of course, so that's more like job-lite and doesn't really count. But others were productive outside their stanzas. John Donne was a diplomat and a lawyer. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a priest. Ezra Pound was a highly successful fascist and lunatic. And my hero, Wallace Stevens, was a vice president of the Hartford Insurance company.

There's a wonderful story about Stevens that I hope is true and not urban myth. A writer for a literary magazine had an appointment to interview Stevens at his office. By that time, Stevens was generally acknowledged in the literary world to be one of the great poets of America.

Stevens' secretary chatted with the writer as he waited and finally asked him why he was interviewing Stevens. When the writer told her, she was taken aback. "Our Wally is a poet!" she said.

When I taught poetry at the university, I always included lots of his poems. He wrote some lovely stuff. In fact, when Linda and I were moving into the madly part of falling madly in love, I gave her a book of his poems so she would A) get to enjoy his stuff and B) learn a little more about me by seeing what I really loved.

That part worked. The part that didn't go off quite so well was the other book I gave her, Edith Wharton's novel "Ethan Frome". That's the one where the star-crossed lovers have one moment of very innocent happiness and decide it would be better to die together than live apart. They jump on a sled and go down a steep hill straight into a tree. Only that goes wrong; they both survive and live into old age bitter and - literally - twisted.

After she read it, I can still remember LK asking me in a very odd voice just what in the hell I was trying to tell her by giving her that book. Oh, I answered, I hadn't even thought about what actually happens in the book. I just love the way it's written.

So I guess I accomplished one goal. She learned a little bit more about me.

Nonetheless, she married me anyway. I should note, however, that she and I have never gone sledding together.


And as a postscript, LK and I remain strictly white bread for one more day. The toaster repair has been delayed again. I forgot that the car was going in for servicing early this morning, so I haven't had a chance to get around to the hardware store. But it's coming. Stay tuned.

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