Poet of the Week Archive: September, 2006
September 4 - 10, 2006: Ronald H. Bayes
I'm thrilled that Ron asked me to write the introduction to his work for this website. I think Ron chose me because I probably know him better than anyone else on the planet. That's why he trusts me to say the "right things"--what he'd like to have people know about his life and work, both of which have been informed by the white heat of poetry and his genuine, and often displayed, love for his students, first at Eastern Oregon State University and later at St. Andrews Presbyterian College. I'm not the only one who admires him. The spring, 2006, issue of the St. Andrews alumni magazine contains four pages of appreciations by students and faculty who have felt Ron's presence during his tenure at the college. W.D. White, the chairman of the English department, who hired Ron in 1968, wrote: "Looking back, the one thing I count as my gift to St. Andrews was enlisting Ron Bayes as our Poet-in-Residence."
For 37 years, Ron has touched the lives of thousands in profound ways. (He's too modest to "fess up," but it's true.) Fame, status, age, gender, religion, politics, sexual preference-none of that has ever mattered to him. The numerous kudos in the magazine bear witness to his passionate commitment to diversity. Even the front cover of the magazine is special. It's filled with colorful photos of books published by St. Andrews Press, which Ron founded--volumes like The Collected Poems of Samuel Ragan, Ron's Casketmaker, and Gozo Yoshimasu's Osiris, The God of Stone.
Lines from Ezra Pound's Cantos set Ron on fire when he was in his teens. We've talked numerous times about the lasting effect Pound's compassion has had on him. Pound is agonizingly aware of the tragedy of ordinary people's lives, as Rainer Marie Rilke, too, laments in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Pound would undoubtedly agree with the protagonist's comment in Malte that "nothing is more lasting than misery." Analogous lines from Pound continue to remind Ron not only of Pound's infallible ear but also, above all, of his anguish over the plight of life's human throwaways. They read as follows: "The enormous tragedy of the dream on the peasant's bent/ shoulders" (Canto XIII). This sincere compassion for the common man has clearly informed Ron's poetry and his love for his students, for whom he sees himself as a "conduit" helping to carry on the "live tradition." Quoting from the Cantos, Ron once responded to an interviewer: '"hear thunder, seek to include.' That's the whole thing." Ron was responding to a question about Pound's influence on him by Joseph Bathanti in the spring, 2005, issue of the journal Cold Mountain Review. Clearly, Pound has left an indelible imprint on the psyche of Ron Bayes. He can't seem to stop quoting some gem or other gleaned from careful-and numerous-perusals of the Cantos.
In fact, Pound's principles have informed all the significant literary events at St. Andrews for the past three and a half decades. The most important event is surely the establishment of the Writer's Forum, a weekly, Thursday night poetry "happening" featuring the likes of Robert Creeley, Fred Chappell, James Dickey, John Cage, and Ed Dorn-just to name a few of the stars who have performed at the forum, which is still going strong. True to his populist convictions, each week the forum holds an open mike for students. Imagine being a freshman BFA reading her tentative attempt at originality after Robert Creeley has just finished reciting his heartbreaking poem about the death of his mother, which concludes with the almost unbearable line, "I will follow"?
And how do I fit into the equation? I happened to enter Ron's class as a junior English major without a hint of a clear path to follow. Ron gave me one. He must have seen some hidden fire ready to burst into flame. And it happened. In the fall of 1968, over the course of the entire semester, I wrote around 100 poems in and out of Ron's creative writing class. I couldn't stop myself. The poems just kept coming, almost of their own free will. Other students, then and now, have had similar experiences. In fact, John Lawson, now a professor of communications at Robert Morris University, wrote a beautiful essay in the alumni magazine praising Ron's competence, caring, and genuine desire to help him make really new the poetry John had written under Ron's tutelage.
During my last two years at St. Andrews, I also watched Ron edit The St. Andrews Review, so it should come as no surprise that in 1998 I began my own literary magazine- Simple Vow -which looks suspiciously like a mediocre reprise of The St. Andrews Review, a nationally prominent journal (also founded by Ron), which for more than 20 years featured a populist mix of stars and student unknowns. I'll never forget being included in the premier issue of the Review, appearing with luminaries such as William Stafford, Caroline Kizer, Ken Hanson, and even Ezra Pound himself! Needless to say, I've treasured my two complimentary copies for 46 years. By including me in that issue, Ron sealed my fate. I was a poet, and a pretty good one, even though I was a clueless 18-year old junior just trying to figure out how to avoid the Vietnam draft.
Today, I'm a collaborator with my former master. I asked him some four years ago to solicit pieces for what was meant to be the fourth-and final-issue of Simple Vows. And did he ever contribute. In fact, he submitted, as "contributing editor," about half the material that ended up in a 450-page book that we decided to call The Simple Vows Anthology. I agreed with every piece Ron accepted. Like Pound and Williams, he has an infallible ear. Thanks to Ron, the book contains 13 poems from Ken Hanson, a story by Donald Richie, and three Pisan - Canto period fragments by Pound. Apparently Pound had never submitted these poems to New Directions, which owns the rights to his original work (Cantos included). Ron snagged these pieces by contacting Pound's daughter, Mary deRaschewiltz (Ron's friend for many years), asking if she might have a few scraps from her father that we could publish in the anthology. To our amazement, Ms. deRaschewiltz graciously sent Ron three fragments published in Italy but not yet in the United States. Because of Ron's charming persistence, Mary's generosity, and the professional courtesy of the Italian publisher, fresh work by Ezra Pound has appeared in English for the first time in 45 years. The Simple Vows Anthology appeared in April, 2006. What a coup!
Ron Bayes has done more to carry on the "live tradition" than anyone I know. That needs to be recognized as a fact. As for my feelings about Ron, put simply, he is the best teacher I have ever had. He has continued to inspire me to write and publish poetry and become a competent editor. One last point has to be made. Ron's poetry, like Pound's, has a melancholy streak (see his poems "To a Friend Who Walked Girders" and "Shrine" -a sad piece about parting/departing, which is one of the central motifs of Ron's work). But he also possesses a wonderful sense of sly humor, which manifests itself in the classroom and in his writing. A good example is the conclusion of one of his short poems: "You'll never see me again, you poor bastard." His vision is comprehensive--tragicomic for those who have seen "both sides now," as Shakespeare did. I'm sure Ron would agree with Nietzsche's penetrating comment about the bard: "What a man must have suffered to have needed to be such a buffoon."
Thanks, Ron, for the vision you've offered us - in your person and your work. Nothing may be more lasting than misery, as Rilke lamented, but that doesn't preclude a good dose of joie de vivre. Thanks, too, mentor, collaborator, and friend, for probably saving the life of a 58-year old former dazed and confused "jock-poet" English major who will love you for as long as forever is.
Kemp Gregory is the editor of Simple Vows. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.
On teaching creative writing
In the very dark night
I can only hope
Well I Lost
everything you gave me--
your letter back in,
You poor bastard,
For a Friend Who Walked Girders
I fumble at the weaving of a garland for you
That I have never seen a finer
Eyes sometimes come alive in paintings
Late Night at BoJangles
If you got some to give away,
But don't throw it out, neither!
You got a Christmas tree yet?
"What you want for Christmas?"
Mr. Bayes has published thirteen books of verse, two plays, a book of short stories, and a work of criticism on John Reed. "Construction III" first appeared in the book Constructions (Tokyo: Novakast Press). "Well I Lost" is drawn from A Beast in View: Selected Shorter Poems, 1970 - 1980 (Laurinburg, NC: St. Andrews Press, 1985). "For a Friend Who Walked Girders" appeared in The Casketmaker: Selected Shorter Poems, 1960 - 1970 (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair Publisher, 1972). "Late Night at BoJangles" was in Ron Bayes: Greatest Hits (Columbus, OH: Pudding House Publications, 2003).
September 11 - 17, 2006: Judy Hogan
In the early 1970s, when the rural political and social landscape of North Carolina was changing radically, I left New England, where I was living and teaching, for a visit home. It was during that spring break that I met Judy Hogan, and I continued to visit her over the summers until I moved back to North Carolina. Judy proved to be a poet who would change my life and many of my perceptions about writing and writers. Poets traditionally are considered wildcards, the native inhabitants of the margin. When Judy entered my life within this margin as the practitioner, I was ready to be fed the stones and bones. Like many writers who arrived at her door before and after me, I learned from Judy that the effort to write poetry is an intelligent act and without good criticism there cannot be good poetry. So I have stayed inside of this margin, witnessing and consuming the services she provides as reviewer, publisher, book distributor, teacher, writing and arts consultant, and advocate of literacy and literature.
As a young poet, I was powerfully challenged and awed by the way Judy helped me to understand what it means to imagine a world and make it believable in language, using my most intimate secrets, musings, visions. Audre Lorde once said, "Poets must teach what they know, if we are all to continue being." Judy Hogan not only knows where to dig but also teaches the craft of digging for verbal artifacts.
Her bidding has always been "tell the true stories." Judy Hogan's own poetic expressions are full of sharp observations of the world around her as well as the intentional world she is trying to create. Her poems often serve as an act of questioning what it means to have human consciousness and the language to convey it truthfully.
As teacher, she encourages the surreal poem, the poem of political protest, and the confessional poem, helping multitudes of writers to make their voices louder. Judy's writings about the natural world use metaphors as a way of exploding the bounds of perception. Her poems are informational, compressing experiences; they continue, over a span of thirty years, to help me see the likenesses among the human, plant, animal, and celestial worlds. Judy teaches us how to use our poet eyes to guide us to truths beyond the scientific way of seeing, weighing, measuring, abstracting, and dissecting.
I am blessed to have her on my artistic journey. She continues in her classes to move writers to investigate and express human consciousness in language that goes where prose dares not go. I believe that when Judson Jerome referred to her in the 1980s as "one of the most experienced small press editors," it was because of her unconditional devotion to the process of small press publishing. From the manuscript to the finished book, she understands what it means to be an editor and a teacher of poetry, and to stand for the rewards of calling forth and publishing marginalized writers.
Jaki Shelton Green is the 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Her poetry has appeared in publications such as The Crucible, The African-American Review, Obsidian, Poets for Peace, Immigration, Emigration, and Diversity, Ms. Magazine, Essence Magazine, and Kakalak.
Her publications are Dead on Arrival, Dead on Arrival and New Poems, Masks, Conjure Blues, singing a tree into dance, and breath of the song. She is also the author of the play Blue Opal. She is the 2006 writer in residence at The Taller Portobelo Artist Colony in historic Portobelo, Panama.
Teaching to Love; Loving to Teach
Although my primary vocation is writing, my second is teaching, which has through the years both provided income and enriched my life and writing work. I have always believed that anyone who can talk can learn to write well. It takes a love of language, reading the best literature, work and dedication, and caring, honest feedback to become a good writer. I love my students and have told them, "If you don't want me to believe in you, go away." Most talent develops from having read widely and coming to love words and their power to communicate human meaning and experience. My writing students over these 30+ years have come from all walks of life, all educational backgrounds, various cultural and ethnic heritages, and all age groups. I love this diversity. I learned early to insist that my students both write ("a writer is one who writes") and read good models. The most unique teaching I did was for a program funded by the North Carolina Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Conducted in public libraries in Durham and Burlington. The course -- A Roadmap to Great Literature for New Writers (1981-91) -- was free for the students, and I was paid adequately.
I came to teaching by way of editing. I co-edited Hyperion Poetry Journal (1969-81) with Paul Foreman. I founded Carolina Wren Press in 1976 and edited it until 1991. I always gave feedback, and many writers who came to me to be published stayed to learn how to write better. My strength as a teacher has been helping writers find their own voices. This continues as I teach freshman English now at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, striving to wake in my students a love of words, the joy of language, and the understanding that all our stories and wisdom become part of the human record of how to live that we call literature. -- Judy Hogan
Green Again XIV
Gold Light XI
When we are young and troubled, we are given
Judy Hogan was born in Zenith, Kansas, in 1937. She has lived in North Carolina and in the Triangle area for 35 years. She brought to the state a new poetry journal (Hyperion, 1970-81) and in 1976 she founded Carolina Wren Press. She has been active in the area since the early '70s as a reviewer, book distributor, publisher, teacher, writing consultant, and organizer of conferences, readings, and book signing events. The poems that appear here are Judy Hogan's copyright. They have not appeared elsewhere and we reproduce them with the writer's permission.
Ms. Hogan has published five volumes of poetry with small presses, and two prose works, Watering the Roots in a Democracy(1989) and The PMZ Poor Woman's Cookbook (2000). A translation of her volume of poetry, Beaver Soul, was published by the Kostroma Writers' Organization in 1997. Her papers, correspondence, and 25 years of extensive diaries are in the Special Collections department of the Perkins Library at Duke University. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974, through libraries, in extension programs, and on her own. She teaches freshman English now at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh. She still does freelance editing for creative writers.
Between 1990 and 2001 she visited Kostroma, Russia, four times, teaching American literature at Kostroma University in 1995, and working on some exchange visits and publishing with Kostroma writers and artists. She's active in environmental and community issues in Chatham County, where she is a member of the steering committee of the Chatham Coalition, N.C. WARN, and Southeast Chatham Citizens' Advisory Council.
Ms. Hogan lives in Moncure, near Jordan Lake. Most of the poems she has written since 1987 concern the Haw River valley, its animals, birds, trees, flowers. "Green Again" won the Robert Ruark poetry prize for 1997.
September 18 - 24, 2006: Alan Michael Parker
As I reread these poems by Alan Michael Parker -- because Parker's grace and wit always invite us to reread him -- I remember one of our conversations in which Alan said, "I can't write political poetry." He said it wistfully, almost as a confession of a failure and almost as a position. We talked, I believe, about the nature of political poetry. I remember thinking or perhaps saying, "Hmmm. We'll see," because in some sense Alan's statement was a challenge.
I'm using a lot of qualifiers intentionally, because I intend to challenge the definition of political poetry. Of course, polemical poetry is generally bad; polemics belong to the politicians. But the word "politics" derives from the Greek "polis," which means "city." So the political might be "of the city" -- that is the social -- which leaves room for Parker, who is surely of the city. He is an exquisitely and profoundly social poet, revealing the larger social world from the individual's point of view. In "The Vandals," he writes "the vandals / back their Dodge 4 x 4 up to the door / of the abandoned town hall and theater." The vandals (in both the poem and the book) will occupy, sack, and take the reader "inoutinoutinoutinout" not only of the polis (meaning the edifice where the people gather) but also of the psyches of the people. In this book Parker implicitly and humorously posits the idea that the sensitive poet himself and his gentle reader may also be vandals who come in and out of town halls, theaters, bars, psyches, and poems.
In Parker's more recent work we see the vandals morph into ordinary people in a crowd, as in the "The Offering," in which a pregnant woman "goes down" at a farmers' market. For me, "The Offering" shows how the ideas of the polis, the social, and ethics come together in Parker's work. I'm privy to some knowledge, which I don't think Alan would mind my sharing. In an earlier draft, the poem contained the word "racism." He omitted that word and, as Marianne Moore says, "Omissions are not accidents." If race now enters the poem, it does so subtly, compassionately, and, I would say, charitably. The poem does make distinctions of culture, class, age, gender, and education, but Parker lets the people act without imposing on the scene. The poem might be saying, "This is how people behave in the face of birth, illness, pain, and perhaps death." With such beauty, as if they were making offerings to a Hindu goddess, each person offers what he or she can -- flowers, water, fruit -- with "charity, helplessness, love." Everyone is helpless before the body's vulnerability. Parker doesn't tell us exactly why the pregnant woman has "gone down." The poem sees as one in the crowd who doesn't know if she's fainted in the heat or gone into labor or what. Like the doctor, the poem's "expression form[s] into a question."
If poetry shows us a way to perceive, the most profound lessons are in the questions. Parker's poems offer up the ethical and social questions of the polis through keen observation, wit, wonder, humor, and music. He doesn't provide answers, yet his offering is to ask us how we can heal and honor each other with "charity, helplessness, love."
Aliki Barnstone is a poet, translator, editor, and literary critic. Her most recent books are The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy: A New Translation (W.W. Norton, 2006), Blue Earth (Iris, 2004), and Wild With It (Sheep Meadow, 2002). Forthcoming are her study of Emily Dickinson with the University Press of New England and book of poems, Pique, with Sheep Meadow Press.