I’ve long pondered the question, “What does it mean to be American?” As a native of the Midwest, my perspectives were quite different from the friends I met and lived with the first time I moved east, the ones whose experience of the rest of the continent happened when flying to California from New York City. There’s a lot in between! You need to get your feet on the ground.
And then, in the desert of the Pacific Northwest, everything twisted. Little I’d known was familiar. Once I adjusted, I never wanted to leave. But then, everything blew up, along with Mount St. Helens.
By degrees, I edged eastward, finally landing in New England. As for answers to that ongoing question, let me point you to my latest book release, the poetry collection Noble Blue Liberty. All we need is a field of stars.
Like the American bison that dominated the prairie, the continuous ocean of tall grasses, which long spread from a corner of Ohio into Montana and Colorado, has been decimated. Homesteaders – seized by a fever to possess farmland of their own – sowed apprehension in their furrows. Inhabitants and land itself now lay open to chronic infection. After each harvest, the Breadbasket of the World, the Interior States of the American Soul, is left vacant, a stubble desert awaiting rebirth. Descendants of those who made this band agriculturally productive bear both its blessing, in economic output, and curse, as if no one can entirely escape the desperation that prompted settlement in the first place. In the recesses of the psyche, inheritors of these spaces must likewise sense themselves to be buffalo-people, and then fear they, too, may be heir to this fate. Pushed to the fringes, the intrinsic beauty and spiritual potential of the heartland are easily overlooked, both by the remnant population and the world’s policy-makers. Today’s farmers are mechanics, first and foremost. Cry, then, for harmony and healing – a proper reentry into Canaan, a taste of balm in manna. Look, ultimately, to the surviving bison and tall grasses with their underlying lavender shadings. Respect the faint drumming, growing louder.
The poems of my newest collection, Noble Blue Liberty, include some of my earliest published literary work, along with some of my most recent. They range across the continent of my mind and heart to find home.
They revive the wonder of entering the wide cloudless skies of the Great Plains or youthful opportunity.
What opens with a dance tune here deflects into the reaction to a blow or injury, to a fly fisherman’s reel, the canisters of a movie, or even a soaring eagle. These poems span experiences of touch and coupling, however chaste at times, and of flight and emerging lightness. To be light on one’s feet, then, and lighthearted in the end, if not a little dizzy.
They could even be what poet John Haines has called “horses in the night.”
I often delight in a phrase or term that takes on a life of its own, apart from a particular content or meaning. The poet Jack Spicer, drawing on his training as a linguist, was a master at this.
Overhearing one conversation recently, my mind’s eye took the Black Joker who met the Red Herrings on a Non-Tour in a much different direction. My choir buddies, Mike and Kate, knew who they were talking about, and where. It was all about Morris dancing. For me, though, it was pure magic on its own.
Words can, after all, exist in their own sound and space. How short can a poem be, anyway? I have a few that weigh in at one word apiece, while two or three words can make for a nice verbal dance.
The title of my newest poetry collection, Noble Blue Liberty, is one of those. Years ago, I warned the mother of three children I’d run with her lofty impression, and I have. Actually, the title could stand as a poem all its own.
I have similar feelings about some of my other recent releases.
fence posts without fencing utility poles, the wires gone green pine, blue sky floating clear from Terrill’s Ridge a blue jay shriek ~*~ maybe some early settlers a few hills over, listened, their naming Scarce a’ Fat Ridge meaning not many steps to either side of the trail you’d fall off or you couldn’t grow […]
Let me confess to struggling with the preposition for the title of this collection.
The initial thought was of being atop a mountain, with its panoramic views. But that runs the danger of suggesting superiority, submission of nature to man’s will, or placing more value on a given result rather than the process of getting there (and back). The climb, I’ll contend, is purification for what lies ahead.
An alternative “on the mountain” allows for the sense of having one’s feet on a trail or even presenting a series somehow “about” the mountain as a set of explanations.
I settled on “under” for its sense of looking upward, in awe or even reverence, as well as the fact that even in mountainous terrain, we live in the valley, with some degree of protection from the elements. Where the streams come down and weave their threaded branches together. Where at times the clouds nestle in. Where the eyes wander from the summit.