This humble little book was waiting for me when I cam home from New York City. I was tired and confused with all the stuff I had to do. Stuff for work, stuff for writing, family stuff, etcetera. Lee gave me a 6x9 manila envelope from Oregon and said, "Here, Bobby, this came for you." There it was—a signed copy of Variations by Bill Deemer. “Compliments of the author” a hand-written note said. Oh, wow! Bill Deemer is one of my favorite poets. And a wise man. Full of wit and Basho-like understanding. A part of that breed that Ron Silliman calls the New West Poets or Zen Cowboy Poets. This is Silliman’s way of saying that Deemer doesn’t belong to any group. A republic of poetry governed by anarchy. Deemer has the usual virtues of the citizens of that anarchy. He lives in the West, he has roots to Philip Whalen and to Jim Koller's Coyote Journal and he doesn't belong to any identifiable group. He just lives his life—a very full life, a rural life, a contemplative life—in Oregon, his eyes wide open, and from there he writes his poems. Of course, being who he is, most folks haven’t heard about him, much less read his work. The little book (4½ by 5½) only has 31 poems, many of which are “Variations on a Theme” (the delicate and beautiful title poem). Variations on WCW’s red wheelbarrow, Zen rock-skipping, etcetera. Only a few are bigger than the one small page. I sat down and read it and have re-read it twice. The poems make me joyous. Here’s the last poem in the book.
TIME TO PEN MY MEMOIRS●
I waited for a letter to arrive,
I waited for the phone to ring,
I waited for water to boil.
I saw the wood rose between gray fence posts,
I saw her asleep beside me in the morning,
I saw the moon glowing in a puddle.
I heard the blue jay’s reveille,
I heard Lew Welch read his poems,
I heard her whisper to me in the dark.
I remember it rained a lot.
What a great little poem, huh? And so much mystery suddenly to think about Lew Welch reading his poems. I wish I had been there. Oh well. Bill Deemer seems happy to be our Basho, our Issa. I looked for images of him on google and came up with nothing. I’ll let him be. But I want to thank him here for such a wonderful gift.
And likewise to Longhouse Book Publishers, publisher of Variations (1999). Longhouse--an essential independent press and on-line bookseller of poetry books that matter--is the remarkable business owned by Bob and Susan Arnold. Bob and Susan have indeed walked the walk all these many years on River Road in Guilford, Vermont. Bob Arnold is likewise fine poet and writer himself. His book On Stone: A Builder’s Notebook (Cid Corman’s Origin, 1988) still reverberates in my heart. Bob and Susan, although they live in Vermont, certainly would qualify as indigenous citizens in the anarchy of New West Writing.