Our children take it for granted and married people with no experience of sky and desert can't go without a shower. The yellow rattlesnake in the draw of the Mazatals, mule deer nooning high on a hillside under a cedar watch us with their eyes. Encounters with cedar, mountain and bear that began along the Balcones Fault continue in the Hill Country continue to some of the best wilderness of the west, Arizona and Utah. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays we walked the Superstitions or breakfasted on the rim. Father's day we hiked the Verde below Jerome. Second Mesa, Tuba City, Window Rock, the Navajo Fair, up and down the Rim to Albuquerque, down to the Chiricahuas and before that to Glenn Springs, Santa Helena Canyon, the high trails of the Chisos, the Guadalupes.
These things done along the Balcones Fault got bigger. It was always sky and earth, plants, milkweed, eating ephedra, waiting in the creosote after rain with the smooth trunks of the persimmon and madrone, the Naked Indians, prickly pear and octotillo, mugwort and yarrow. Pansies building group mind, afraid of sun, moon, wind, storm, silence, escape to the ragged west. Sometimes we met groups like Outward Bound camped on hillsides, the notion being that if a child is socially disturbed they will reintegrate their personalities by exposure to rock, tree, hill and sky, leave off their electric current for a single moment of first light. Laying there it is almost a sound, like a clock.
The huge majority of these camps were away from everyone and every amenity, in tents along grasslands or in trees to hear the silence. That was the point, to give up the social worlds for whatever of the wilderness I could get. Many statutes come of this land and its bizarre attitudes come to mind in the green tree and the herb, as Isaiah: "I will take my rest, I will consider in my dwelling place as a clear heat upon herbs, like a cloud of dew in the heat of the harvest." I wrote about such things in the Rome journal, Conoscenza religiosa (2/1983) and in Epiphany Journal (Fall 1987). If you want sophistication of the world, Stephen Spender in the Weimar, aside from a week in Paris filling Cleo's ear from the Tuileries Gardens to the Arch, and weeks in the Czech Republic with the giddy McConnell singers, and all over Wales, Scotland and London the same, Scotland on the Reiff coast, and Costa Rica, the primitive led to the unconscious, by accident.
Spender says there is some experience, vision or insight behind the poem more important than the poem itself, not just a place to hang a word hat. The written text is a memory that links impressions of this experience in two kinds of writing: foreground conscious memory, and hidden, “so that remembering is like creating them anew, or like experiencing them for the first time,” (Spender, World On Worlds, 53). Thoughts in poems/fiction as methods of the unconscious resemble translations of this experience, translations amplified by the people we knew. The modern escape from the hidden seeks to experience everything for the first time, the easy way, instead of to laminate layers, oxides and decomposed granite in clay, impasto it onto a surface stretched till it tears, or just before. But I don’t want to remember this time next time. I don’t want to learn. As vacant and edgy as before a competition, a tennis match, a golf game, keyed up and slowed down, utterly blank, I exit as I enter, ignorant. I don’t want to know what it is even if I spend time wondering. The next day, the work causes some muscle pain, two feet or more that weigh twenty or thirty pounds, bending them over, stretching them up to speak so I cannot sleep that night from all the contradictions this causes. I call this Forms of the Formless in ceramics, but with words it is letting go. Spender says, in contrast to Auden, I could not accept the idea that the poetic experience was left behind while the poem developed according to verbal needs of its own which had no relation to the experience. (World, 54).
Hebrew is a hyper grammatical language, each jot and tittle mathematical in a way, but to me language is sound and sounds skew consonant assonant meaning misspelled with punlike context incorporate collective meanings of image with the sound. When Spender says in the seen and in the word that poems are a reminder of the moment, remember that Heidegger says the like in Hartman (Scars of the Spirit, 139). I think of the phrase in Psalm 89.5, to walk in the light of your presence and that whole books and long meditations try to plumb this meaning in order to have the experience, the same experience as I rejoice in your name all day long for it seems that these are multiple envelops of experience keyed to the letter, the word, the sound, the grammar, all the particular aspects, but they are much more. It exists in the song upon the bed all night long that David wrote about, Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. Ps 42.8, When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Ps 63.6, the song, when awakening, is like the spring that feeds the brook. It recedes from consciousness in day but surges again in night and plays, sings, murmurs, shines all during the instruction of sleep that Isaiah says is the instruction all night long too, He wakens me morning by morning, he wakens my ear to listen as one being taught. Isa 50.4. So that is the experience of language Spender gets at and the ground Heidegger is after, but the song in the night is not philosophical or poetical even, it is more. I participate in the simultaneous presentation of these events too enormous to express when waking, write down the simultaneous, rotate before the mind welcome insights good to see and know. If I do not make this note they will be gone. If Hartman's Heidegger calls "for a liberation of hermeneutics from its dependency on texts...it is Being itself, according to Heidegger, not the text that "calls" to us in those [great] poets," this is what Spender is after. Meaning exists and calls to us, like the new birth, and we hear the sound thereof but know not whence it comes or wither it goes. The body that holds the meaning of life, the text, provokes the meaning and makes the text grow so that "he was in the world" becomes a song and can never be merely text again. If I give some texts here that produce these effects that people long for it is because they are true accounts of experiences repeated. This began and continued the more I left all other forms of intoxication behind, emphasize all, but this experience nightly, daily, is so great as to dwarf all others, and this renews itself and ennobles and enlightens the mind and enables the heart to compassion.
Practicing outside the idea, myth, creed or movements, in the field of the amaranth, cogwheels in the sky, the angel in memory, this so called fiction is dictated by idea and revised by sound, then skewed into a tapestry. Such recollections would not be as possible without the letters from the trail that my father and mother kept, my grandmother, aunts, family, friends, wife, but in the American sense do not cross the water, as Kathleen Raine charged. They thoughts cross the water of the front brain and swim into the ocean that supports the boats that sail. There is no better time or place than to quote Derrida, "keeping a secret that is visible from the interior but not from the exterior."
I came with a full developed vision of America as a mystical place, America Spelled with a Y, gestated and birthed in the Texas Hill Country and the Edwards Plateau, woven with plants, poems, aquifers, stage stops, creeks, madrones, and association with mountains, deserts, botanists, herbalists and gardeners, and watched it fall. The echoes of Psalm 40 enter me now, the audacity of a son of God, not in the old sense of the fallen, but in the new sense of the redeemed, one of those to whom He gave the power, who seeks to enter into that life eternal the same way that the Savior enters into the many blessings evoked of Him all over the writings and the prophets. I come in the volume of the book where it is written of me, the name at least, and more, I delight to do thy will. But this was written before the catastrophe, before the Katabole, called sometimes the foundation of the world, the refoundation anyway, so I come into the theatre as if only parts of the play, song are being sung and I won't know my own till after. I came to Texas after two intensive two years at Iowa and two years teaching black students in North Carolina. Before that there was six months residence in Costa Rica, with all those riches, and before that becoming a flagrant Christian at age 17, fruition of a family of Mennonites, and a completely changed life the summer before beginning college. This continuity seemed to break in Phoenix. You cannot just start over. You start way back.*
We had left Austin in 1980 for five years of medical school in Dallas, five because one year was omitted to bring our first son to birth. We were connected there a little. I contributed to botanical newsletters at Greenhills, Texas Wildflower, etc. We hiked Greenhills many times. I wrote Native Texans then taught poetry and classics in introductory forms at Bishop College and edited the Red Rose. I don’t know what we were thinking for residency after medical school. The choices were Dallas, Albuquerque, Austin, Houston, Galveston, San Antonio, Phoenix. We selected Phoenix for the program and the orange trees at Park Central, plus the permanent aloes of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and the nearness of the Tonto, Mogollon, White Mountains, Mazatals, Chiricahuas, Grand Canyon, all the weekends being temp docs at the South Rim Clinic, her month of residence there, Desert View, Canyonlands, the North Rim, Arches, temped clinics in Kearney. I was known in Austin, and in Texas in a way that became completely extinct in Phoenix where we raised a family, started a medical practice and did free lance art, knew doctors, church people, tennis people, business men. We rode around Arizona with our chorus in the back seat chanting at the top of their voices, Peter Freakin Freaken Freud and Chicken, chicken, chicken nerd, which is on tape and come can go up on YouTube, but dim in the memories of participants without this reminder. Twice I sketched long term with artist groups, one at Clark Reidy's foundry in Tempe and after that with Molly...and 20 or 30 commercial artists downtown. I assumed the name Eagin Arthur for this. Molly had me bring a portfolio of pastels to show her boss at Moses Anshell. You can imagine how that went. It was all business. Ceramic exhibitions are still all business, not poetry. The Eddas, the Sagas, the poets, the Faerie Queene are castaways. Who knows Crusoe better than the sea? There is no truth like people who know you, which associations bring all the luck. The loss had to be compensated in the experience not gotten anywhere else, of the wilderness. See Reviews of MacFarlane, Mountains of the Mind, Krakauer, Into the Wild.
The Austin English, people who continue to be mentioned here, were friendly to the muse. If you outlive them you give account. Hearing that the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant (1901) of Bala-Cynwyd, where my mother, father and brother had obsequies passed, and from Mike Adams of Tom Cranfill (1913-1995), I learn also Hans Beacham (1925-2004), Kurth Sprague (1934-2007) and Ruth Lehmann (1912-2000) are long gone to give their accounts. Hans became my friend the day I presented him with two or large trash bags of composted horse manure. I was, still am, in favor of gardeners, used to give away plants wholesale. I was working at Cranfill’s place in the fall of '79, cutting down all the bamboo that had grown up and prevented his view down the cliffs of Cliff St, long after he chaired my doctorate. I needed money to pay the birth of our daughter, a cash baby. I had been winging it for five years washing bottles for the Clayton Foundation and running the Pharmacy Drug Garden, 19 hours each a week. We didn’t have insurance, although it didn’t stop me from steak, baked potatoes and Cabernet Sauvignon while she formed in her mother’s womb. Hans and I struck up a correspondence where he sent me copies of his publications. He liked to do these in the latest word processing, although A Modest Madness was a glossy. I was not aware until later of the extensiveness of his drawings for the Texas Quarterly, but a little manure goes a long way. His letters below are for the sake of his memory.
In addition to being a literary scholar, poet and teacher Kurth Sprague owned and ran Blackacre stables in West Lake Hills. Kurth was a follower of the Celt, Ruth Lehmann his mentor. She had affection for the muse. Some of her letters are here too. He produced a book of her poems privately and presented it to her. Kurth arranged and hosted a fine retirement dinner for Tom Cranfill that Cleo and I attended, which things stemmed from having to sponsor a committee to oversee the doctorate since he was my director. Kurth had a lot of horse manure. I used to get elephant manure from the circuses so was always on the lookout when I tended the Experimental Drug and Herb Garden. Kurth's stables were mentioned in conversation with Tom Cranfill and he put me in contact. I had a budget and was proposing a weekly or biweekly run of double pickup loads to the Garden, but it is possible to say a thing, even initiate it, but feel it deeply wrong, like the time I seemingly agreed to let Robert Williams install an astral battery in the fireplace room. Something prevented that, and something prevented Kurth, who was sent the paperwork from the U for the contract, all terms agreed, but he never sent it in. There was silence. Months later that was all that was said. So with a sighs of relief I contracted my friend Cleo, who hauled forty double pickup loads in two weeks from a huge pile at a stable out north and dumped it all over the garden, concentrated in one field especially. Maybe it was twenty double loads, forty in all, but it was significant. I had had the U agree to bring all the leaves from the campus and dump them at the Garden. Since I had a tractor these were plowed in continually and broke down pretty quick. After two years the soil grew dill eight feet high. When it was disbanded at the end of my third year, the Pharmacy College traded it to the U for a new building, the word went out and locals who knew a good thing.came and scooped as much of the soil as they could for their own gardens.
What are your deepest instincts and desires? I had made a mockery of education for fun without intending anything but fun. I had taken the position that everyone is a genius, especially among students with percentiles of reading, writing and math in the teens. The methods of teaching applied were generative, descriptive. Research was wandering in the stacks. My committee of poets was constructed of totally indifferent men. I was a child of peasants who wanted to study with C. S. Lewis and I ended up with Rhodes Dunlap, a good second, who cultivated the scholar to my rashness. The first sight of the tall glass shelves of scholarly old books behind his desk has preoccupied me since. His courtesy was a pleasant shock. I sought such courtesy again with Tom Cranfill, but was closer in temperament to Donald Justice, even if the three had the same work habits, which of course are now mine. Meetings with Justice were silences and glowers. Once he said of two lines, they're good, why aren't the others? This was as effective as the dentist who said not flossing was like carrying a piece of meat in your armpit. Rash acts, a life full, not shy from telling the truth.
I guess one wants to recruit people of understanding for one's oral exams, a two hour interlude where anything can asked, and if answered acceptably keep the mast upright upon the sea of literature. Willis Pratt 1908-1991), Ambrose Gordon (1929-1987), Tom Whitbread, and Tom Cranfill were my idea of a sweetheart committee. I’d have entertained Warner Barnes for the American part but he was not compatible with these. I never took a formal class with any of them, except Whitbread. Played tennis with him too, but he couldn’t stand up so we went to have a beer. He came to several poetry readings I had on Spicewood Springs Rd. I sat in Cranfill’s Shakespeare, Gordon’s Aiken to get a sense. I guess I did take a Blake seminar with Willis Pratt, the third outing of my Tyger, Blake’s system in the round. I really wanted Willis Pratt’s Blake slides that he showed in the seminar. I got them too, made copies! I intended to publish a Blake comic book. That was before the Blake Archive. Later in my reply to Hans I tell how Ambrose Gordon began the oral questioning with the metaphysical poets - first question – what are the metaphysical poets? I said, Rosemund Tuve say. He said, what do you think Donne would say about her? I said, he could care less. Again he asked for my opinion, so I said they were the ones Dr. Johnson said you should kick in the shins. Good thing I didn't say that! In the center of that two hours I addressed Willis Pratt with the recollection that he and I had talked of Shelley’s Adonais (in Spenserian stanzas) when he had seen 50 Spenserian stanzas I had done on Persephone, and then delivered remarks on Shelley and Keats among the stars for nearly half an hour! The only contribution I recall Whitbread making was a yes or no question I guessed right at. If I had said no, or yes, he would have failed me, retribution perhaps for his not appearing at the minor oral at his house after he hit a tree. The makeup minor oral exam was as brie as the tree, but I was spared the aftermath by the arrival of one his “stews” as Hans puts it, and made escape. We rolled to the end of the questioning when I cited Lowell as something objectionable, Gored by the climeractic of his want, I said, he stalled above her like an elephant. When asked what's wrong with that, I replied, its metaphysical. Tom Cranfill gave the alert, and called, "full circle" and stopped the exam, time having expired anyway. After they cast my fate I was told they had not heard matters delivered with such enthusiasm.
Tom Cranfill was just what I wanted and expected. Mainly an art collector and editor, he did not eat footnotes, as John Velz, his Shakespeare competitor boasted his students did. I gave Cranfill an early proof of Calendar and he put three in the Texas Quarterly. It was only years later that I saw he had edited, changed some the words to “The Way Into the Flowering Heart”! I have changed them back. What editors are for. As long as it’s not too much. He later published “Song” from my “translation” of the Taliessin Poems. I showed these to Ruth Lehmann, which elicited her letter. Tom Cranfill’s office and home were a good breath of air. Art books covered his office shelves. His foyer had screens set up to further display the line minimal drawings of little animals, magic-real groundhogs and men he collected from Mexico. I took my mother and father to meet him when they visited after the finish. He was quite genial and pleasant, that’s why I guess, when there was a conspiracy within the English Department of hard drones to dump him from teaching Shakespeare it was easy to respond with a letter. I think Kurth Sprague was behind this defense. In any case I got a civil reply from the Chair at the time thanking me for my general letter of approbation and the whole issue was canned. There were many letters. He used to ride a stationary bike during the evening news for half an hour, to keep his legs. He would often walk to school from his home. One time on the way home he was held up by street person, or I should say this was attempted. He did not look tough, but that belies his spirit and his biking. He was able to deck, or maybe it was sweep this wannabe and continued on his way.
There was other antagonism at the U, undercurrents of anger besides Megaw co-opting a teacher’s union and Moldenhauer decreeing nobody could talk to the press. Someone was stealing from the Garden plants that had just put in the ground. Being investigative I found out who, and approached him with the news. After ripping my shirt he came at me with a shovel, which I sidestepped and held. I said to him, calm down. He realized that with the ease I neutralized him he could easily have the shovel sticking out of his pocket, so settled for threatening to kill me. That same day he insulted a friend of mine who knew nothing of this who punched his lights out. He wrote a letter to the President of the U and etc. that I was a bad person, and filed an avoidance order with the Justice of the Peace. I insisted on a hearing, which occurred in a month or two. The JP dismissed him first, then apologized to me and said this was the kind of thing to be endured from the public eye! I took it sympathetically. Carlton Lake of the HRC in those years punched out an assistant and he had a hearing before a similar JP. But Lake’s book on French biblio, Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist, is to be read with gratitude and interest. I keep it next to Farella’s, The Wind in a Jar and Hayot’s, The Hypothetical Mandarin. After I got acclimated to the rare book trade, once on a visit to San Antonio I stopped at the Jenkins Book Company, after the fire, but the results were interesting. Charred spines, smoke residue, like the coat of Hector, tattered and stained, advertised in the HRC catalogue that year. Bibilophiles wanted to go beyond the book into the personal effects of the Auteur, who inhabited that high literary plain. They already had Michener’s eyeglasses and desk. Ken Sanders in Salt Lake had the ceder tree Abbey urinated on when first seeing the Grand Canyon. King Tut was under negotiation at that time. I came away from Jenkins echoing moth and rust and thieves.
3. Some Letters
|Hans Beacham. A Modest Madness|
Dear Andy — This “thing” you are looking at is a one-only copy, produced for you, to show an example of the format I might try to use for a small magazine. The poems printed here were taken at random from their storage in the computer’s memory. I simply run through and pluck out what I want, then send a replica to this file where this letter (to you) resides.
What I describe above has no limitation. I can usually do what I imagine. Eventually, the mechanical part of having the poems on paper does have a few limitations, but they are good. If I go beyond, say, thirty two pages I have a small problem with folding. The edges don’t come out just right. But that will keep me from trying to do too much. As you can see, even with the few pages in this one-only copy, a lot of poems can appear.
I like for the publication to be easy to read, and “nice” in the hand. Or in the pocket. Beyond those notions, such things as “fine” printing with huge margins on rare paper are of no particular interest in this sort of project.
Man, I was really pleased to have your note, from Phoenix, with the news that you’ll expose some art in a few days. Congratulations and best wishes. In your February 21 letter of last year, you mentioned that Pat’s circumstances might involve Arizona. I had hoped you might call in June if you came to Austin, and maybe you did, but I have been away most of the time with unexpected responsibilities. There have been a few surprises for me, too: soon I’ll have my 62nd birthday, which is surprise enough, but in serious areas there are parts of me which are no longer in like-new condition. I try to be detached as repairs are made. So strange.
Do you know how long you’ll be in Phoenix? Please don’t become misplaced because I want to stay informed of your gyrations, especially the poetic ones. I found PL3:HSTBIS most absorbing — the copy resides in a spot where I go to have a serious read. Speaking of spots and serious exertions, do you remember that ages ago you gave me a small but sturdy rosemary plant growing in a 6″ pot? I planted it in the garden I have about 90 miles north of here, east of Temple. Now it is a mound of about three feet, and continues to give great pleasure to me and my stews.
Best wishes for a splendid new year, Hans Beacham
19 April 1987
Dear Andy–Your February 7 letter so pleased me that I set out to reply immediately, but just as quickly, unexpected circumstances took over, claiming most of my time, all of my humor, and left no energy at all.
You remember my plan to be printer and publish a collection of Ambrose Gordon's poems. Well, I got a copy ready for him, all finished except for a binding. Silence. Finally, in early February, a lady whom I did not know telephoned to explain that Ambrose and Mary were at that clinic in San Diego (the clinic which believes in magic and tries to cure cancer with carrot juice). Mary asked the lady, an Austin friend of the Gordons, to explain why they had not acknowledged the unbound volume which they knew had been delivered to their Austin address. Ambrose died, just after his son Mack flew out to San Diego with the unbound copy which Ambrose saw and acknowledged (smile and twinkle–his cancers were of the esophagus, pancreas, liver, and prostate, all discovered in early January), but he and I had gone over the proofs so many times that we knew by then that the copy from the computer was perfect. No errors.
Ambrose retired last year. he was 65. After he was put away in Savannah, Mary returned to Austin to face all the adulation. She and I talked at great length by telephone because I avoid those group things. Then she treated herself to suicide. A fine artist, she had been persuaded by Ambrose and me to do several illustrations for the poems. Most successful. I suppose Ambrose was an atheist. Mary was a fierce covert to Rome. They were lovingly compatible.
While all that was going on, Lois Trice’s doctor phoned me and said she was about to die. She was 91. After much chaos (“Go ye not gentle into that good night…”) she died. Tom Cranfill, with power of attorney, etc., came up from Mexico. (When he was a little boy in Dallas, she taught him his Latin. He was the nearest to being all that might be her remaining family.) By the way, you planted some unusual white salvia, on the edge of the cliff, just off the terrace of Tom’s house. Suddenly a big clump of it appeared this spring, filled with blooms.
Well, back to “Cautious Fugue” and the delight of giving you a surprise. Yes, a word processor was used in the production. There are many types available. I do not know how familiar you are with the jargon, so at the risk of sounding too simple, I’ll give you a quick explication.
Software, often called “utilities,” is a program on a floppie disc. The disc, made of material similar to magnetic tape for tape recording, goes round and rough in a little square jacket which balloons out with a bit of air when the square is put into the disc drive of a computer. This goes around sort of like a phonograph disc on a record player. The disc drive “reads” the disc and causes the computer to start doing things. The computer with its drive(s) is hardware.
For "Cautious Fuge" and this letter, etc. my Kaypros have their important relationships with my four printers. This letter you'll have will be printed on a Juki 6100 printer which produces beautiful crisp copy, suitable for lithographic reproduction. There are many styles of type. This one employs microspacing so the effect is one of real type. Another printer, a Mannesmann-Tall 1601, is a so-called dot matrix printer which prints rapidly. It can do 20 characters per inch, or as big as five characters per inch. Wonderful for proofs or just casual printouts. Very fast. [In the following paragraph, I will direct the printer to go back or NOT doing a flush margin on the right. You see, I could appear to be using a typewriter instead of a so-called depersonalized computer. They are not depersonalized at all. I named my first one Mnemosyne, and I hug and kiss them all the time, just the way I hug and kiss my cameras.]
I want to send you a copy of the Ambrose Gordon book, but his unexpected death, followed by Mary's suicide, has caused a legal mess. Who owns what? Who has authority? Can any of their various wills be considered valid? Ambrose and I had been at this little project since 1983. We never hurried. I sort of dreaded finishing the project because I got such pleasure out of what was really a tactile encounter with poems. Now, while I own the "objects” I produced, I do not own any rights associated with the objects. In a week or so, I will see if I can send a copy to you, and if I find there is a legal problem, you can return the book to me later. Okay?
Your life with Pat and Elizabeth in Phoenix sounds rich, what with the three of you being so civilized. When I saw Willis Pratt (at a small sit-down drunk to remember Lois Trice), I repeated your remark about "collecting modern firsts" and how "there's more worth in a good dust jacket than there ever was in a book!" but I never really got through to him. He is enjoying being old and mean and highly revered; and I say okay. He was pleased to hear your name, even though he never really got what I was repeating. Are you aimed at some specific goal when Pat's year ends? What is her area of medicine?
The warmth and enthusiasm of your February 7 letter were important to me. I felt encouraged. We'll just have to see what happens. Having "A Green Tree" was an added pleasure. That sort of beautiful printing, however, does not usually happen with computers, unless they are told to set the type photographically. This is done nowadays, especially in newspapers and magazines where even the lowly typewriter no longer exists. And seeing and reading "A Green Tree" reminds me that I have always liked and admire everyting I have read that you have written.
Meanwhile, best regards, [Hans]
My response to Hans seems to have two states, a hand written version together with the typed, partly the same, mostly different. I try to combine them. Together they show the passage out, the road taken. His reference to The Avenues of the Cabinets puzzled me at first because I could not find it. But then today, 13 May '14, having wakened with the phrase harden not your hearts as in the day of provocation and giving account of hearing and seeing from Charles Bowden, went to look for Barry Lopez' Desert Notes and found Avenues right next to it, misplaced, or waiting. I realize this may be the only copy in existence. To be reviewed on GoodReads.
21 May 1987
I received The Avenues of the Cabinets, thank you, and will return it if necessary. Your letter was a shock-as the experiences you relate must have been for you. After I had decided to ask Ambrose Gordon to serve on my committee I sat in a semester of his modern poetry class to know his mind a little, but the most likable thing he maybe said to me was at the oral - first question – what are the metaphysical poets? I said… Rosemund Tuve says…he said, what do you think Donne would say about her? He could care less, I said, then gave my opinions as he had wanted me too, but he began the thing this way and I appreciated it a lot. That was the kind of committee I needed. I met [his wife] Mary several times at parties, esp. the Potters (she once read my hand as if such a thing were not mad). AG once said he would never let her read his. She peered up my fingertips the long way and said something like, you will benefit from more experience! But the look said something else, which we will not reveal here. Her death is dismaying. If the poet ever has the last word over the critic that will be the best hope. I thank you for the return of the image of the white salvia blooming upon the precipice in all this as something to cling to.
I could not immediately respond, not time intervening, but my second (!) burglar at the window two nights ago (duly apprehended, etc.) and other events have shocked me in another direction, so that I presently feel slightly dizzy or euphoric. I am now two for two after the fashion of burglar napping and goods recovery, but it is rather wearing and saps one’s humor.
We have these past weeks negotiated various footpaths in the Four Peaks, Superstition and Mazatzal Mts. Pat carrying Aeyrie, age 2, at 35 lbs, most of the way on her back – up and down and up. Elizabeth, keeping a hearty, quiet pace between us. We average maybe 6 miles a walk. What a treat. In 40 min we can be in the wild – in 2 hrs, where wolves prowl (seriously) with elk, fly agaric mushrooms, pine and glacial rock. After this year we will need some healing-one month remains of the intern year. Three are required for board certification in Pat’s specialty nonspecialty, family medicine. Who knows what our goal is in all this. It has been already 7 or 8 years in the making.
My attitudes about it are complex. In the enclosed mag Fiction Review, is printed a story of mine, “Heavenly Agencies,” under the pseudonym of Eagin Arthur which was first an expression of irreparable contempt for all publishing efforts but may become something more. Did I not mention the birth of Aeyrie (April 3, 1985, our first son, gold-haired, hawk-like cries?)? He has gold hair! He managed to drink a little of some mineral spirits in which I had cleaned a paint brush with white paint so that it looked like milk – this 2 months ago – the story is a part of that experience of what then happened, which now I have also received from the dozen police standing on my lawn Monday night! We live in a mixed neighborhood here which is within five minutes of Pat’s hospital, Good Samaritan. Other experiences of medicine incline me to stay away from “the program” Pat is in as far as I can. The punitive, authoritarian sexist mall-ism of medicine. So you see I am well adjusted! The acknowledged universal agonies of the intern years will certainly leave us both with ironies to meditate all our lives; perhaps this book will be called “The Unmaking of a Doctor.” If you’re in medicine it helps to be 25, inexperienced and not too sharp, none which she is! It immensely helps to be male too. Hers is a three year program leading to board certification in Family Practice after which we ideally choose a locale and town in which to live and “practice.” We cannot see even tomorrow though so ours is a daily existence. I don’t want you to think however that this all is not producing growth in us because it certainly is. The old ladies in the immediate neighborhood view me I think as a godsend, want me to join the police force.! But conflict is not rounding our edges but sharpening them and since we have no TV to deaden senses, or sugar, I feel invigorated really, an appropriate mentality for the wilderness that surrounds Phoenix. Aeyrie though is a true son of my spirit.
This wilderness, namely the Four Peaks, Superstition Mts., Mazatzal Mts, with 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours from our home is the real reason we came to Phoenix. We continually walk it, After some years more I hope to be able to write of these things, capture the incredible event of simultaneous creosote, orioles, tanagers, king snakes, bobcat prints, shale cliffs, cool piney air, and this is just local. If we drive to Flagstaff, 3 hours, the San Francisco Peaks, Wupaki Desert, [Sunset Crater], Navajo and Hopi reservations, Canyon de Chelley, Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon are all waiting there, and we’ve already been for the first time. Even closer is the Mogollon Rim and surrounding vast wilderness of elk and wolf packs, which we have heard howling in the night while camping. [Chinle, Tuba City, Navajo State Fair]
All this while I’ve been sketching such things in pastels, modeling clay sculpture (human figures) and book collecting (re the dust jacket, “On books 20 years old or older, the average increase in value added by the dustwrapper would be close to 400%” Allen Ahern, Book Collecting, 25), and most of all homemaking. Elizabeth, now 7, avidly reads the Hobbit & Narnia Books, with the encyclopedia etc. She turns up suddenly singing
“Far over the misty mountains old”- Of the Dwarves Song – all the stanzas! She multiplies one digit times any 2 or 3. Adds columns of 4 figures, climbs mountains. Home teaching has not taught her what she can’t do – but what she can. However, except for her rich imagination she is not a prodigy.
I’m glad to hear news of Austin and familiar names and places and I am interested in this book production by computer which seems to produce a superior product. The right-hand flush margin for instance has excellent space justification, especially compared to The Fiction Review which was done on a typewriter I think. I have recently sold a Green Tree and another like it “The Branch” to The Mennonite with perhaps more to follow. Imagine that, for real money!
I like this book collecting but don’t get to see much Hogarth Press material. Dust jackets in good condition more than double the book’s value – esp. since without the dj the modern book is unsalable. Willis Pratt liked a long 50 stanza Spenserian poem of mine, but it never has seen daylight. Truthfully, I find that the little mags, contests, and other markets can’t stand a poem that exceeds 1 page, 32 lines, just as they can’t stand a poem to be about something other than personal inexactitude, pain and dissonance in a disconnected style, imagistic not philosophical in the main. I recently did a parody and sent it off as Eagin Arthur to Mallife or Waste Development [like ones in Zafusy]
Little square tabloids like fryers [like fryers]
Littered ultitude ‘ools
Ad ernal art.
Or the bite of “Poets” profane pain:
The maker’s hat is newly drowned.
These insincere speakings intend mockery of the Guggenheim, Ford Ford poets. If this is a step toward distancing myself I’m glad my “Eagin Arthur” is a character long in the HA borning – a couple of sequels going.
I’m also enclosing, I don’t think you’ve seen it, a copy of my Native Texans which I was rereading recently because I’m finding almost all these plants in AZ too. I hope you recognize many of the plants, of course, the several picture books available, produced by A&M, TX Monthly Press, and UT press will help remind you of any you can’t immediately place. I wrote that book after a dream of the dying Carroll Abbott, who in the dream was disconsolate. I had written one article (Equisetum), sent it to him and he liked it so much I continued writing, sending him at least two more articles. Oddly, I finished the thing very near the time of his demise several moths later. It made the rounds of all the regional TX presses, was accepted by Eakin and Corona and reneged also by both-something about the market and the oil glut I guess-and at present is at the bottom of the drawer. I did print about 30 or 40 copies like this one, most of which are gone, but I present it to you in memory of my love for Austin, the hill country, plants and Texas.
Yours sincerely, Andy
At the very end of my sojourn in Austin I showed the Taliessin Poems to Ruth Lehmann, as she might like the idea of the effort. Why and how I came to attempt such a thing stemmed from preparations for my first trip to the British Museum, London and Wales. I came on the four ancient books of Wales and conceived a kind of road map to follow in tracing sites relating to those poems and to Merlin, multiplied all over Britain, but especially in the north. This took us to many standing stones, forts, Stonehenge three times in the rain with rainbows. It was not fenced at all then. Old Sarum, Bath, dozens of sites in Carnarvonshire and Angelsey, I didn't take notes so much as impressions that carried along for two years until about1976 while I was driving from Bandera to Austin and began to compose Song, a villanelle that appeared in TQ: "Only three have returned from the battle's rage." I composed it in my head as I drove for those hours. It was folded into the three themes of the four books, the agony of war, the love of woman, the worship of God. so began to be composed takes of these that had begun years before and continued or adapted with work already in progress. One, "Long the days and long the nights I held this image in my mind of red on gold" had to do with the last bushman of Laurens van der Post introduced to me by Bill Lee. Five of the battle poems saw daylight in Austin in print in Latitude 30° 18' (Winter 1985), but the love poems and the divine sonnets attributed to Taliesin were no more his than the battle poems, all foisted on him after the manner of a mask, conceived from Shakespeare probably, so sometimes I called them Poems of the Unknown Soldier, buried as it were in the Welsh countryside, to consecrate the connection between Taliesin’s meditations and the entire Welsh nation, entirely fabricated. The Unknown Soldier came mythically to every country and each person. These pretended to be written in the mystical tradition at the battle sites of Britain, Merlin, Aneirin, the sea. The Poems of the Unknown Soldier were accompanied by the medieval manuscript of the Hanes Taliesin, properly understood as transformations of the living in the company as praises of Jesus, full of craving for God, a rough-hewn worship like Old Testament battle songs where they go out praising, and among them also songs of love. It’s a little amazing how far a fancy will go. It was claimed then that these took after the dozen historical elegies of the Sixth century in traditions Caesar wrote of in the conquest of Britain, tales of transformation that anonymists in the mask of Taliesin added later to mystical religious work of Biblical and prophetic subjects. Myrddin, said to have gone after the Battle of Arfderydd (573 AD), and source of our modern “Merlin” out of Nennius (9th century), is made historical counterpart with Taliesin, and words ascribed to him in the 10th century Historia Britonnum flit about them in the battles. So the four traditional Welsh bards, Taliesin, Aneirin, Myrddin and Llywarch Hen, extant in manuscripts of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, although the thirteenth century Book of Taliesin survives only in the fourteenth century Red Book of Hergest, are said to be the main source of the fifty-eight poems attributed to Taliesin.
Right before leaving Austin I looked up Ruth Lehmann and gave her a copy. I knew her husband Winifred from my days in linguistics. I had turned down an offer for a fellowship when he suggested I take a NDEA grant, a kind of DARPA affair. While I did not study with Ruth I had with Rosalie Colie at Iowa, her Science and Imagination in the Renaissance and through her Marjorie Nicolson, made me appreciate what Ruth's students meant when the paid tribute to her influence. She replied:
1 May 1981, Beltain
Dear Mr. Reiff: Didn't I have your wife in class some years ago? Thank you for letting me see your Taliessin. I think you have a real feel for the music of words and a sense of rhythm--qualities too often lacking in our free-verse present. your use of some of the intricate Provencal schemes shows your daring in your skill.
To keep this from being all praise, I have two suggestions: inversions, distorted syntax here and there are disturbing because so much seems smooth and perfect. I cite one example from "Nightingale," I take it back, I misinterpreted. But there are some "did's" that are unnatural. Your work is too good to have any flaws. The second: though you use assonance and consonance as well as rime, your rimes by and large are banal.
Many of your poems I don't believe anyone could improve on. This is truly excellent work.
Most sincerely yours, RP Lehmann
So I sent her a copy of a Calendar of Poems after that to which she responded by returning her note with a copy of her Poems published by her students in appreciation, Celtic to the core, inscribing it to "A. E. Reiff, a man of talent."
17 May 1981 Dear Andy Reiff: I have greatly enjoyed your Calendar of Poems. You show great variety of mood, voice, and from. I hope you did mean for me to keep it. In return I'm sending you my own privately printed poems. I particularly liked the early poems, perhaps because they really sing and I had this past year as a student a local poet who could well be Johnny one-note, and seems to consider four-letter words poetry in their own right. H also was stuffed with fundamentalist religion in his youth, has rebelled, and his verse is monotonous without insight or music. perhaps it is a wonder Christianity survives at all.
You ring many bells, waken many thoughts. Whatever you wind up doing for a living, don't give up poetry. The Renaissance undercurrent helps to give your work depth and variety. Sincerely, RP Lehmann
Speaking of Poetics, Ruth Lehmann's comment about the banal rhyme, the flaw, is worth noting. End stopped rhyme is banal in itself perhaps, internal rhyme less so. I have long puzzled such occurrences in some of these poems, especially when they appear bracketing such unbelievable events as the word written in earth's center in the matter of its making, or I bleed with him for he loves the world, or a being light radiant of golden man / whose living passion, like a redding sun. All these from the so called divine sonnets attributed to Taliesin end the Calendar for the month of February. Tom Whitbread guffawed at the last lines once of the heart as an aging sack in Where Love-Lies-Bleeding stretches all bejeweled. Out of the most baroque amaranth of Milton's heaven, flowers bloomed a vein of love and life to wind about a disembodied cross, a lot to take, but, now my heart is but an aging sack / for love's gone to the world and won't come back. Never having been able to tame these made it obvious that something else was at play. I hate to say it feels that if you want to climb or fall you have to contradict the text itself, an antidote with antimony, the banal rhyme in this case, the flaw, although the contradiction could otherwise occur, the point being that there are not going to be perfect lines, but there will be imperfect ones.What poem has changed the course of history?
* I am presently entertaining the notion of the four year rhythm of life. To trace this I begin in 1959 with this change until 1963, returning from Costa Rica at the death of my brother. Then to 1967 and beginning residence at Fayetteville, then 1971-72 end of my marriage then 1975 finishing the PhD, then 1979-80, birth of our daughter, 1984-85 removing to Phoenix, 1989, finishing residency, 19 93, travel to the Czech republic, 1997 genealogical search, 200l beginning tennis again, 2005 publication begins, 2009, end of raising family, 2013...