Thursday, June 30, 2011

Distinguished Authors I have Second-Handedly Known

Back in the 1970s
A professor
At the University of Washington
Who had known Theodore Roethke
Told me
“You’d see him
At the Mechanical Engineering Building
Or Hutchinson Hall

"He was a tall imposing man
‘Hi-ya, Sucker’, he’d say
One of his poems
Was about crows
That flew into his eyes
Back in his head
Far back…
About his latest Guggenheim fellowship
He said
It won’t even keep me in liquor.’”

When in need of company
He was exceptionally friendly
You knew
The invitation could not be refused
To be kept for a very long time
At a bar
While the poet held forth"

Professor Harris also knew Saul Bellow
He was commissioned to ferry him around
While Bellow was visiting lecturer
His Herzog was the talk of Chicago and New York
In Seattle academics had heard of it

And “I think he was working
On Augie March,
The Adventures of
The books were nice
With great sex"
The language noble
The sentiments true
If less than noble

It seems the sex in the books
Was not fictional
And the visiting writer
Was mostly in need
For the night or the week
Of a woman
In his sojourn
Out West
In the fish mongering town

Professor Harris said
“I could have helped him
But it was not in me
To direct him to a prospect
Or two
For the urgency
He made quite evident,
When he said,
‘Would you mind
If I lay down on the floor
Over there
And groaned?’”

At après lecture cocktails
The great man had found his mark
He was making progress too
But he went upstairs
To relieve the pressure
Of liquor he’d consumed

In this unfortunate interlude
A homosexual of the faculty
Propositioned him

He flew
In a rage
Back down to the festivities
Remember, circa 1968,
It was  acceptable
To be pissed
At a faculty gathering
About an outrage
Such as this

As the visiting writer clearly was
The host tried to console him
In his great loss
The opportunity
Now had eluded him
For the duration of his visit

He left in a huff
With the host at his elbow
Trying manfully to calm the fury
“Yeah, Saul
You’re right, Saul
That’s right!”

Professor Mark Harris said
Bellow promised
To read his own novel
Recently released
I read it
Mark was pleased
That a student had actually read
High Morning Fog
It was there in the library
Next to Joel Chandler Harris
Tales of Uncle Remus

A long time
After the incident
The visitation
The distinguished author
Wrote a letter to the professor
"I picked up your book
while at my publisher
the other day
It was a cookbook"

These things happen
Mark said
Books are commodities
In New York
Even in Seattle
It could have been a mistake
The cover on the wrong book

I worked late
But I had meant to attend
The award ceremony
For a distinguished poet
It was going to be an ordeal
In traffic
Finding parking at the art museum

Who was this writer
To be honored
For his struggles
Against addictions
Yet inspirational for Art

The Internet is a marvel
In minutes I found poetry
By Franz Wright
The recipient of many awards
And fellowships
Including the Guggenheim
The National Endowment for the Arts
For poems about drinking binges

Last year my sister died
She fell on the stairs
In her dismal house
Then suffocated
Unable to move
Against the weight of her body
And twenty years of alcohol abuse

She used to drink with my ex-wife
Whom I divorced
Then along with my faith
I’ve found little art or mystery
In poetry about addiction

I went home and had dinner
Such as it was
Had a pleasant telephone conversation
With my parents

I read Michael Novak
The Universal Hunger for Liberty
In it I find the recapitulation
Of art in the old idealism
The nobility of Schiller
The musical incarnation by Verdi
Of Don Carlo
Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro

If there is to be a Renaissance
It will resemble the 16th century
A revival of virtuous classicism
Art of the past

Holding up the mirror
To our decadence
We will go blind

Listening to church bands
And the dissonance of art

This is a great mystery

May 18, 2005

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