Joan Logghe said that men and women inhabit each other like undergarments. "He wears me and I wear him."
—Rice, page 72
I’ve been going through my 2007 journal, collecting bits and pieces of scribbling that might be a poem, and I found this note re: Joan Logghe’s Rice (Tres Chicas, 2004). The book is a collection of 74 regular-looking and untitled sonnets broken into 8 and 6 stanzas. JB Bryan sent me the book as a gift (he with Renée Gregorio designed it) several years ago. It's truly a handsome book, but I’m not a fan of sonnets, Joan is a student of Robert Bly and that whole root of the poetry tree doesn’t turn me on, so it must have sat around my house for a year before I even bothered to thumb through it. When I did I immediately enjoyed random poems and then over the next week or so read the book from cover to cover. This is not a usual habit of mine. I have poetry books that I’m reading scattered all around my house and office. But I loved Rice. It documents a rough patch in her long marriage. Her husband of many years (they have three grown children together) is attracted to another woman, they are on the fulcrum of their lives, the rest of which, as we all know, is downhill making its way toward the sea. So, in part, the sonnets read like a narrative, but they also carry with them of histories of old friends (Jim Sagel dies in one of the poems) in the post-Hippie life of northern New Mexico, ruminations on geology and poetics and food and poems and her Jewish heritage and Buddhist practice and all the stuff that goes into a life of making poems and a family and dinner and a history of one’s own. The poems ring in concert with many of my own feeling about living a life out here. Lee Byrd, who doesn’t read a lot of poetry, grabbed the book when I was done and likewise read it from cover to cover. We both heartily recommend it.
Below I will add the sonnet which is on page 54. Probably not the best in the book (whatever that means, and for who), but it discusses her writing of sonnets and she populates the poem with her dead men friends. One of them was a friend of mine, the late artist and sculptor and poet Bill Gersh. Hell, I probably only spent 8 hours with Bill during the time I knew him, but he was one of those guys, if he knew you, spilled his life into yours with enormous pleasure. In the early 1990s I had a DH Lawrence Fellowship and so was blessed with spending the summer at the DH Lawrence Ranch at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just north of Taos. Bill invited my son John (he must have been 14 at the time) and I over for dinner in the adobe home he had built himself. The poet Renée Gregorio was there. And, with delicious food and good wine in our bellies, Bill told us the almost epic journey on how he rode his Harley from California to Taos, a beautiful blonde woman wrapping her thighs around him and hugging him close. When he got to Taos, the Harley went kaput, the woman left him, Max Feinstein and the tribe were building New Buffalo and Gersh knew he was home among the longhairs and the Indians and the rural Hispanics and the mountains. The story was beautifully told, funny and sad and righteous, a true insight into the life of an artist in the 1960s. Bill pulled no punches in the telling, and I was delighted Johnny Byrd got to hear the story. 14 years old is a good time to hear such stories. Bill died in 1994 at the age of 51. He was a year younger than me.
By the way, you don’t need to know all these peculiar histories and endnotes to thoroughly enjoy Rice. And Tres Chicas is a collaborative effort of Joan, Renée and Miriam Sagan. The painting above is Gersh's "The Trailblazer" which I found on the artnet website.
Gersh gave me permission to write any kind
of sonnet I want, “Just write a fuckin’ sonnet.”
And Grolnick says in a riff from death, “Go, chick,
go.” And Robert says you’ll never meditate, stop
kidding yourself. And Rick inquires after my health.
Just write a sonnet, forget abba abba cd cd cd.
They all assemble in these fourteen lines,
give me thumbs up. Go ahead, the dead said.
My living love lost his job, cut off all his hair,
drank love in a beer. Wanted to trade romance
in for a new model. Rode off, over there.
I flipped. I did the Change of Life dance, sang
“Growing Old in America” blues. I cried myself down
ten pounds. Weight returns, but the dead cheer me on.
Painter Otto Campbell, and a group of cholos he recruited from the streets (la Sociedad de la Esquina), of downtown Juárez, Chichuahua, painted this mural La brigada por la Paz. I figure they did the job in 1996. The photograph is by Virgil Hancock and it appears on the cover and in his remarkable collection of photographs, Chihuahua: Pictures from the Edge (University of New Mexico Press, 1996, with a companion essay by Charles Bowden). The reason I'm putting it up on the blog (it's a copyrighted image and I've lost contact with Virgil) is that I was googling Otto Campbell the other day and I found absolutely nothing about the man. No text, no images. He was an important artist and cultural activist in Juárez (he died in 1997) and there should be some trace of him and his work available on the web. My friend the Mexican novelist Willivaldo Delgadillo says of Campbell, "He had a man-size wisdom and was one of those rare human beings who appeared to be reconciled with himself." The mural was painted on the corner of a major intersection in Juárez--Avenida Diez y Seis of Septiembre and Avenida Francisco Villa--which is right across the street from the downtown el Restaurante Villa del Mar, one of my favorite restaurants across the river. I saw the mural only once when poet Joe Somoza and I were over there walking and talking about poetry and eating fish soup. It was not finished yet--it was only in its preliminary black and white stage, and it was truly remarkable, ghostlike. I never got to see the finished mural. Soon after it was completed it was obliterated. Again, Willivaldo: "The local Coca-Cola honcho ordered it removed because he didn't like the fact that the bishop had a $-sign on his hat. The mural was replaced by a small notice on the repainted wall that read: Please Do Not Adverise. Coca Cola."
Willivaldo has told me that a young artist is now doing research on Campbell and that more work may be made available. I hope so. He's one of those mysterious fronterizos that make an important mark on our lives here on the border and then disappears somehow into the white noise. I would have liked to have known him.
The reason I have the image in the first place is that Virgil was kind enough to let Cinco Puntos Press use the photograph for the cover of my book of poems, The Price of Doing Business in Mexico. Virgil, if you're out there, I'll be happy to remove the photograph from the blog if you so wish. But I have a hunch that you, like me, will understand that Otto Campbell should certainly be googlable.
Which reminds me: There's a a small story that tell the reason I was googling Otto Campbell. My son John Byrd wrote an article about the band Radio La Chusma and a Sunday night concert they did at the Chamizal Park down by the river. John titled his piece "Dreaming of a Sunday Evening at the Chamizal" which is an allusion to Diego Rivera's great mural in Mexico City "Dreaming of a Sunday Afternoon in La Alameda." John didn't feel using an image of the Rivera mural was appropriate to his piece, so I suggested Campbell's La Brigada por la Paz. Especially since "chusma" can be translated into something like "street people." And, instead of searching through my own files for Virgil's photograph, I googled Otto Campell and found absolutely nothing.
In October last year the poetry community in Las Cruces, under the umbrella of the Sin Fronteras organization (a loosely knit collective of writers in the area) celebrated the life’s work of poet Keith Wilson and his enormous contribution to the area’s poetry scene. I documented a like event held in Placitas in June, but I want to include the equally enjoyable Las Cruces event in this discussion, especially because I wanted to add Joe Somoza’s introduction. Joe’s introduction (this is an abbreviated version, what Joe could put together after a month, but it's the melody line on which he riffed for a longer time) is much different from mine that I posted last month. It speaks more to Keith’s biography and poetics, how the two intertwined and evolved. Joe and Jill were in Chicago and so missed the Placitas event, but they were central to the Sin Fronteras celebration. Readers at the Las Cruces event included Joe Somoza, Denise Chavez, Dick Thomas, Connie Voisine, Grant Price, David Slagle, Tim Cleveland, Roger Saxton, Michael Mandel, Todd Dickson, Wayne Crawford, Kevin McIlvoy, Kevin Wilson, Nancy Hastings, Heloise Wilson and myself.
One brief note: most readers think of Keith as a “Southwest poet,” which sometimes equates, however wrongly, to a number of sentimental concerns. At both readings poet Wayne Crawford reminded us that Keith was one of the foremost anti-war poets of the last 60 years. On both occasions, he gave passionate readings of “The Poem Politic X: A Note for Future Historians” from Keith’s 1972 book Midwatch from Sumac. As Wayne said, he can think of no decade in American history when the poem was not relevant, and today even more so, after five years of this senseless war on-going war in Iraq. I am pasting "The Poem Politic below Joe's introduction, Wayne having been nice enough to forward me his perfectly typed file. Joe’s introduction speaks briefly about the importance of Keith’s Annapolis education and his naval service aboard ship in Korea to the body of his work, but it would be hoped that in the future somebody would write a nice long piece about Keith's contribution to the poetry of yearning for peace.
■ ■ ■
A Celebration of Keith Wilson's Poetry
Introduction by Joseph Somoza
October 1, 2007
Branigan Library, Las Cruces, NM
This is a reading to celebrate Keith Wilson’s poetry. As most of you know, Keith has developed aphasia, a condition that makes it very difficult for him to speak, so we will be speaking for him (though, of course, using the words of his own poems).
Todd Dickson came up with the idea, and Michael Mandel brought it to our writers group, Sin Fronteras. We all agreed it was a great idea, and after asking Keith if he approved, we organized this reading. The readers are all friends, fellow writers, and/or former students of Keith’s.
I’ll start things off, but first want to say a few words about Keith’s life to set the context for the poems you will be hearing.
First of all, Keith is a native New Mexican, born in 1927, who grew up in various small rural towns such as Fort Sumner, Deming, and Alamogordo (his father being a road surveyor for the state, they moved around a lot). As a result, he came to be exposed to the various parts and cultures of the state, learning to speak Spanish, for example, and learning about the rituals of the Penitentes and of some of the Native American tribes of the state, not to mention Anglo rancher culture.
Even though Keith always had an interest in writing, his mother wanted him to follow in the footsteps of her great uncle who had been a rear-admiral in the navy, and he wound up attending Annapolis (where he studied Engineering) and serving as a naval officer in the Korean War. But he soon became disenchanted with the military and resigned his commission early in the 50’s. Not knowing what he wanted to do next, he returned to New Mexico for a visit, and as he got closer he realized how much he loved his home state and decided he wanted to write about it—to give voice to the places and people he had grown up around and that had not received sufficient voice up until then.
He had his subject but needed to develop a poetic language that would treat it seriously and in a modern way. Much of the literature of the southwest at that time treated the place in a traditional, stereotypical and sentimental manner. Keith wanted to write modern, convincing poems about New Mexico but didn’t know exactly how to go about it, not knowing much about the contemporary poetry of that time. He enrolled as a graduate student in English at the University of New Mexico but although he learned about the tradition of poetry, this didn’t help him to write a contemporary poem.
In the 1950’s, though, the various experimental post-W.W.2 poetic movements were coming to the fore in this country, and Keith soon began to get wind of the Beats, the Black Mountain School Poets, and others. He was particularly helped in learning about contemporary poetry through the poetry anthology The New American Poetry (1960), edited by Donald Allen, which included Charles Olson’s essay on poetics, “Projective Verse,” as well as a good sampling of poetry by some of the leading experimental American poets of that time. Keith was particularly struck by such writers as Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Spicer and Denise Levertov. Soon after ending his studies, he accepted a teaching job at the University of Arizona and, serving on the board of the new Ruth Stephan Poetry Center, he got to invite some of these same writers to campus and got to know them firsthand.
Now he had a subject matter and was developing a writing style that was clipped, vivid, unsentimental, and modern. Thus began his writing career. In 1965, he was offered a teaching job at New Mexico State University and, soon after, his first book of poems, Sketches for a New Mexico Hill Town, was published. Many more books would follow.
The Poem Politic X: A Note for Future Historians
(from Midwatch, pages 55-57, Sumac Press, © 1972 by Keith Wilson)
When writing of us, state
as your first premise
THEY VALUED WAR MORE THAN ANYTHING
You will never understand us
otherwise, say that we
over peace and comfort
over feeding the poor
over our own health
over love, even the act of it
over religion, all of them, except
perhaps certain forms of Buddhism
that we never failed to pass bills of war
through our legislatures, using the pressures
of imminent invasion or disaster (potential)
abroad as absolution for not spending moneys
on projects which might make us happy or even
save us from clear and evident crises at home
Write of us that we spent millions educating
the best of our youth and then slaughtered them
capturing some hill or swamp of no value and
bragged for several months about how well they died
following orders that were admittedly stupid, ill-conceived
Explain how the military virtues, best practiced
by robots, are most valued by us. You will never come
to understand us unless you realize, from the first,
that we love killing and kill our own youth, our own great
men FIRST. Enemies can be forgiven, their broken bodies
mourned over, but our own are rarely spoken of except
in political speeches when we “honor” the dead and encourage
the living young to follow their example and be gloriously
NOTE: Almost all religious training, in all our countries,
dedicates itself to preparing the people for war.
Catholic chaplains rage against “peaceniks,” forgetting
Christ's title in the Church is Prince of Peace;
Baptists shout of the ungodly and the necessity of
ritual holy wars while preaching of the Ten Commandments
each Sunday; Mohammedans, Shintoists look forward
to days of bloody retribution while Jews march
across the sands of Palestine deserts, Rabbis
urging them on....
THEY VALUE WAR MORE THAN ANYTHING
Will expose our children, our homes to murder and
devastation on the chance that we can murder or devastate
FIRST and thus gain honor. No scientist is respected whose
inventions help mankind, for its own sake, but only when
those discoveries help to destroy, or to heal people,
that they may help destroy other men and living things
Be aware that
Destiny has caught us up, our choices made
subtly over the ages have spun a web about us:
It is unlikely we will escape, having geared
everything in our societies toward war and combat.
It is probably too late for us to survive
in anything like our present form.
THEY VALUED WAR MORE THAN ANYTHING
If you build us monuments let them all
say that, as warning, as a poison label
on a bottle, that you may not ever
repeat our follies, feel our grief.