March 18, 2017

Each Year An Anthem
James Goertel

A Letter to a Poet – Dear James: I've said this before and I must say it again: You are gifted.

Robert and I are here in Key West – this place where the ghosts of so many great words and sentences shine as brightly as this tropic sun; this place where several Gods – Tennessee, Capote, Vidal, and Hemingway, of course; Hemingway, above all others, as always – still live in spirit. And this is a fine place, perhaps the best place, to read your poems. Written on Lake Erie; read on the Straits of Florida, in these joyous, salty waters between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Makes perfect sense:

"we are poised to fall into Lake Erie,
sweeping along its length
until we tumble over Niagara Falls –
our spirits rising with the mists
from the rocks at its base,
our bodies continuing on without our names
to the seaway of St. Lawrence
and beyond to our shared fate,
three mute souls adrift
in the cold reaches of the Atlantic -"

Your poems to Henry take my breath away. Such tenderness. You'll recognize this from another God, Raymond Carver: "'Tenderness.' That's certainly another word we don't hear much these days ... "

And this:
"You will grow to know the fight anthems of my youth."

And this:
"He sleeps, keeping his dreams, as always to himself/
and though he cannot remember my name or the last time he ate, I cannot discount his memories and my own/
sense of failure for having not kept them for him."

And these:
"a war of 'roses are red,' violence, and blues –"

"And it is only now I remember that my father and mother/
only ever/
sang in church."

"I am writing to you with smoke from a chimney,"

"My wife's floral robe hangs/
from the bedroom door/
asking What now?" (And the italics – yes!)

"Remember, my son,/
it's not what you paint,/
but what you leave off the canvas that matters most."

"For forty-five years I built the barricades
between myself and love."

Wow. Beautifully turned phrases and profound statements. True poetry. Plus, that story about Kunitz and Penn Warren is delicious. My God, you've got to tell it to me in person someday. And thank you for introducing me to Sergei Yesenin and Harrison's book. A real, big blind spot for me; I'll look tonight at the bookstore for a copy.

And then: "West of Rome," "Poems My Father Gave Me," " Crows on the Snow," "Two Rachels," "Of Interest," "A Strange Boat," "I Am the Cosmos," and "Ghosts, Come Gather (Sing Your Grey Songs)."

It's unfair to only cite these. On another day, I might choose others. But, today, these are the words that lift me, that stir my heart. And for that, I am so ever grateful. Thank you.



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