OUT OF A WHIRLWIND IN A GUST OF PASSION

Composing my Braided Double-Cross collection marked a turning point, one that came as I was getting my feet back on the ground as a poet after getting sidetracked into the demands at a shirt-sleeves management level and later focusing on novel-length fiction. Up to this point, my poems and, for that matter, much of my fiction focused on place – the outdoors, especially.

Personally, recovering from the collapse of a marriage and what I thought was better tomorrow on the horizon, I hunkered down back in the ranks of my career rather than trying to climb the proverbial ladder. I needed to catch my breath and nurse my wounds. This included a deep review of my life, the nature of relationships, the meanings of being male, connecting in contemporary society – and somehow, that all came into play when I came across an announcement for a book-length poetry competition by a university press. In some flash of intuition, I decided to do a 60-page collection based on notes I’d been gathering. Two weeks later, I was exhausted – but the draft was done.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done a poetry manuscript based on a focused theme. My American Olympus, conceived as a longpoem, had earlier tackled the Olympic Peninsula. But this was the first time I chose to work with individual poems of a general length and style, and it was a leap into love, not in the traditional vein but of a more brutal, realistic take on today’s interactions.

While I had already drafted a novel that would break out into Promise, Peel (as in apple), St. Helens in the Mix, and Kokopelli’s Hornpipe, its focus was more on marriage and trying to work as a couple or with other couples.

Now I was venturing into fresh territory. With Braided Double-Cross – and the subsequent Blue Rock and Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, each of which tackles the same subject in its own unique structure – you could say I was taking the “inner child” concept a step further. These look at love and loving from the perspective of an “inner teen” – one full of adolescent passion, defiance, anger, hunger, raging hormones, overwhelming loneliness. I wanted to record it in its fullness.

At the time, readers and editors under the age of 45 seemed to rave about the work. Those older were largely appalled. Somehow, I still find that telling.

Over the years, the material has also worked itself into many of my other poems; I do have a fondness for Baroque and a respect for the way Bach and Handel recycled so much of their composition. I think, too, that much of the graffiti mosaic or jazz infused energy found in my poetry takes off from this point.

Well, about three decades have transpired since all that. I’m glad I wrote the poems when I did, the way I did. Today would be a different story.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

OUT OF OBSESSION INTO THE BLAZE

Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

IN THE OVERLAPPING KNOTS

What the heart hears and sees may be quite different from what the mind observes and records, much less decides. These may be considered two strands in a braid, into which a third is woven. As for the third? It may be the beloved Other or some Unknown factor or even the undisclosed Rival. Each possibility leads to some distinct  tension in the series of overlapping knots.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross move through sexual attraction and passion into obsession, rejection, even betrayal. In the heated accusations and arguments between lovers, the dialogue – reaching into childhood, history, geography, career aspirations, and the future – invokes an absent, silent third participant, a recognition of the inequality emerging in the core relationship itself. Details of confession mount quietly. Truth becomes unbearable. At times a scream is silent. The braid ultimately becomes a whip. As Diane Wakoski has observed, “Rapunzel and the witch were always one / and the same.”

It’s what Ted Berrigan, in the American sonnets this set emulates, called belly-to-belly white heat.

~*~

Braided Double-Cross
Braided Double-Cross

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

THE NOVEL AS A TIME MACHINE

Anyone else wonder about the appeal of stories set in another century? Just what’s the attraction?

The future, of course, is one direction, a whole set of “what if” projections that for now cannot be tested against historical development. (Admittedly, Orwell’s 1984 certainly has become an exception in the years since I first read it, gee, was it ’64? As has the movie 2001.)

The past, however, seems to be the more romantic option, beginning with historic period romances and Westerns. I suppose it’s not that far removed from those who inquire of astrologers or palmists or mediums about their past lives, although what I’ve always found most fascinating there is how many people who do so claim to have been Cleopatra or Anne Boleyn or Helen of Troy or the like, rather than one of the common, suffering, exploited populace. No, the stories tilt toward royalty, court intrigue, the power struggles of the rich and mighty – the glittering elite far removed from everyday life. (Maybe that’s our fascination with celebrities, too, as if wealth and beauty leads to true love and happiness, not that it ever seems to hold over the long haul. In pure weight, tragedies trump over comedies.)

My wife sometimes jests that I would have been more at home in 18th or 19th century America, especially in a context of the Enlightenment, scientific advancement, and perhaps opera, along with a flourishing Quaker culture. (Never mind that the Quaker discipline of the time banned music and fiction as superfluous, vain, and untrue.) Again, though, the projection is toward a place of refinement, culture, and ease rather than the long, hard, physical labor of the masses.

So what, ultimately, is the attraction of historical fiction? Is there some time or place you’d willingly be relocated to, if it were possible, even if you could never come back? And, while we’re at it, what about the importance of location, even over time itself? Who and where would you like to be? Just what is it about other eras? Ah, the intrigue! To say nothing of the underlying connection.

SOMETIMES IT’S AN AGE GAP

Looking at couples, there’s an assumption the partners will be of roughly the same age. A combination of contemporaneous backgrounds and similar points of reference, for starters.

But there’s also the phenomenon of the December-May, affair, usually the older man and much younger woman. While it sometimes proves solid, it’s also the basis of a lot of Italian comic operas as well as a lot of gossip in real life. In our time, this frequently appears as the successful male who leaves the mother of his children for the (blonde) trophy wife. Go on and fill in the details yourself, with or without the red convertible sports car.

In recent decades, in part thanks to a handful of Hollywood box-office actresses, we’ve also seen an acceptance of the older woman and younger man pairing, even leading to the label Cougar.

I wonder if there’s a more insightful examination of this than Richard Strauss’ lovely opera, Der Rosenkavalier, with both its broad comedy and heartrending revelations.

In revising my novel, Promise, I found myself investigating a similar range of new tensions when I decided to make Jaya seven years older than Erik. Frankly, the decision opened far more to the light than I had expected.

All along, there had been those in my past who advised me to find an older woman as my mate. Maybe that’s what actually prompted the new element in this story.

Do you think age differences like this really thicken the plot? Can they enhance the relationship? Or are they essentially doomed?

Promise

BLUE ROCK XXII

In my pocket you would put family photos, letters, and religious tracts from the 1800s. In my pocket with roots in Ohio’s sturdy limestone soils you would pour mellow oak forest hiking and camping on both coasts. In my pocket your fingers thought they knew what I wanted when you would have come away with […]

REVISITING THE PERSONALS

Finding yourself single after the dissolution of a marriage or the death of a spouse is bewildering, at best.

The loneliness and grieving can be nearly unbearable, and emerging from that into some kind of social scene is, well, a lot worse than high school ever was.

Trying to find the right place to meet appropriate potential partners is no less challenging. You hear all kinds of suggestions, from health club to Laundromat, and all of that’s problematic. These days, as a male, I’d look at a yoga studio, just saying …

Another of the complications is the fact – well, it was a quarter-century ago – that the available women were concentrated within the bigger cities, while the corresponding men were an hour or more away, beyond the suburbs.

In the time since then, a number of online dating sites have appeared, and I’ll let others relate their adventures and successes or failures.

But when I was available, the personals ads began to flourish. Out of necessity, I suppose. They even had their own free booklets, like TV listings.

Coincidentally, around the time I remarried, there was a blowup at my newspaper when the publisher went livid over a personals ad where one hopeful had described himself in opposite terms to the usual cliches. (He touted himself as fat, lazy, unemployed, and the like, as I recall.) It was enough to get me and now-elder stepdaughter (and fellow writer) to start reading the Boston Sunday Globe’s more varied ads for insights in the ways people perceived themselves or tried to portray their desires. Usually, they churned out short resumes full of contradictions or things only others could adjudge. “Beautiful” or “handsome” was common, usually preceded by “very,” but that’s something purely for the viewer to decide, thank you.

At any rate, a few entries would stand above the crowd.

One, for instance, described herself as a “Land’s-End kind of gal,” and you really do get a good sense of her in those five words. (We gave her ad a B+ or A-.)

The all-time winner, though, was along these lines: “Happy blue-eyed plumber in search of articulate, well-poised woman to bring (something) into my life. Children a plus.”

He alone could say if he was happy, and “blue-eyed” certainly told the reader about looks. “Plumber,” meanwhile, indicated responsibility and economic status. As for children? Few novelists deliver as much with such economy.

The ad, we noticed, ran just once.