Harvey's Ghost

The ghost of Harvey Goldner has been on my mind a lot since his death on Independence Day, 2007. The death of growing-up friends (Harvey was born in the same year as me in Memphis (1942), and we were close friends from 1st through 12th grades) instantly startles us and reminds us of our own mortality. Especially if it was somebody that served as a mirror to who we are and to who we became. As I've said elsewhere, Harvey is the guy who turned me onto poetry. It's his fault.

My friendship with Harvey, while difficult, was full of deep memories, nuances and respect for his idiosyncratic and iconoclastic approach to poetry and poetics. It turns out that his death also left a void in the poetry and cultural scene of Seattle. I learned this through Daysha Eaton who works for KPLU, the Seattle NPR station. Daysha called me for an interview and later she produced a nice profile of Harvey. It ran on Monday, 9/10 but its available online here.

Chuk Baldac, who used to live in Seattle, did the portrait of Harvey that headlines this entry. Chuk’s illustrations appeared in Harvey’s New Millennium Business, published in a chapbook by James Newman. This illustration and others will appear in The Resurrection of Bert Ringold. The book will be out in January, our original pub date. After Harvey’s death on July 4th, I had been giving October as a pub date but that was too much wishful thinking. In January or February Elliot Bay Book Company will host a publication party for the book. Harvey's friends will read favorite poems and talk about Harvey. I will make the journey to Seattle. I haven't been there since I received my Masters in 1969 from the university. I'll miss Harvey. His ghost, I think, will show me around through the mist and the rain.

I've been working on Harvey's book for a month or so now, re-reading the manuscript, cutting and adding and shaping. The manuscript that Harvey originally sent me would have been suited for a solid 96-page book, but after his death I decided that we should do a "selected." Chris Dusterhoff, a good friend of Harvey’s who published several of his chapbooks through his Spankstra Books imprint, has been nice enough to make sure we had all the poems to choose from and to offer me guidance in making selections. Now I think we have a book which will be somewhere between 160-192 pages in length. Harvey would have been proud. Thanks, Chris.

I'm excited. The Resurrection of Bert Ringold will be an important contribution to the poem world, although of course it won't sell well. Especially in academia. Harvey of course mocks creative writing departments, so I doubt if CW teachers will be ordering it up for classes. Not that he didn't like the work of poets who taught at universities. He says in one poem he liked to discuss poetics with Theordore Roethke's bartender.

Harvey had four children, two boys by his first wife and two daughters from his second wife. He’d split up with both his wives. He was not an easy man to live with, especially before he started hanging out at AA meetings in Seattle. He was estranged from his sons, but he kept in close contact with his daughters Emily and Amy. He’d create and write hilarious whacko-funked cards and letters for birthdays and Christmases. They’ve sent me a bunch of them which I will be adding to the blog from time to time. Below is a letter he wrote Emily, I’m guess from sometime probably in the mid-90s (he didn’t date his letters). The letter shows off his goofy sense of humor, but, because he’s writing to his daughter, it has a sweetness that he hides away in his poems. I hope Emily and Amy, and whoever else, will add comments here about Harvey, dates or memories, etcetera.

Dear Emily.

Let me tell you about a baseball game I went to last night. The last game I had attended was in 1955 when I was a lad in Memphis; if I remember correctly, the Memphis Chickasaw Indians beat the Birmingham Barons. The game of baseball has changed somewhat. It used to be played outside; now it is played inside a building. Perhaps to keep out of the rain. However, without rain the grass cant grow, so now instead of playing on grass, baseball is played on a green rug. However, most aspects of the game have remained the same, including the fact that the closer you get to Heaven, the cheaper the seats.

It was a good game. But you can’t smoke in the building. And everytime me and my pals went outside onto the ramp to have a smoke, someone would hit a home run. So we learned to smoke only when our team was at bat. We sports fans are very superstitious. Perhaps the best part of the game occurred when we were standing outside high up (remember: the closer you get to Heaven, the cheaper the seats) on the ramp: we saw the most beautiful sunset. Actually, there were 3 sunsets. There was one sunset in the west (naturally), there was one sunset in the east, and there was one in the middle, or, should I say, the north. Really, of course, there was only one sunset, but there appeared to be three. Something like the Holy Trinity, since you are going to Church.

One of the people who went to the game is a friend of mine called John John. It was kind of ironic that the game was played inside a building on a rug because for three days John John has been living in Volunteer Park. It seems that he got a little behind on his rent (3 months) and was evicted. Anyway I thought it was funny that someone who is living outside on the grass should be watching a ballgame being played inside on a rug. But John John didn’t think this was funny when I brought it to his attention. I suppose because he is so close to his situation, he lacks perspective and is unable to appreciate the humor.

The third person who went to the game with us is a new friend of mine called Tommy. Tommy has some kind of neurological disease and is three-fourths paralyzed. Both legs and one arm (partially). He rides in a motorized, battery-powered wheelchair. He is a careless driver and has a lot of fun making people get out of his way. He was unable to open his bag of peanuts, so I did it for him. He gave me some, not that I was expecting any. Don’t feel sorry for Tommy. First of all, out of the 18-thousand people at the game, Tommy was the only one who didn’t have to stand for the national anthem. And, John and I had to walk up an endless ramp to get to our seats, while Tommy got to take the elevator. Also, Tommy does not have to sleep outside in Volunteer Park, but has a nice apartment. Tommy had a great a great time at the game. So did John John and I.

To summerize (since it is finally summer): the Seattle Mariners (that’s US) beat the Oakland A’s (I won’t mention some of the nasty things that certain individual fans said that the “A’s” stands for) 9 to 8.

Soon after you get this letter, I will see you and that will make me very happy.


p.s. In case you are worried about John John living in Volunteer Park (the thing he hates most about it is that the park sprinkling system turns on quite early in the morning and he must rise quickly): an Indian friend of his has graciously offered to share his apartment with John John. This Indian is not a Chickasaw but is, I believe, a Tlingit. And that fact completes the circle of this letter…

1 comment:

Tammy said...

Farewell, my friend.