"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poetry corner

 
 Poetry corner shelf--middle shelf with Whitman as a bookend, pix of grandson Max, etc
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In cleaning out the garage the other day, I came across some musty  poetry books, covers faded with age, and I knew I had to bring them in. We have a poetry corner in the front room bookcase, of our favorite poets and other books we've gathered along the way as we've discovered new poets, or remembered ones. So I've added to our poetry corner. It has a soft chair and warm floor lamp beside it, fairly close to the fireplace.

The only place I know in Oklahoma City that actually has a poetry corner, an entire room really, is Full Circle Bookstore.  I've always loved going in there in the winter when the fire is going, pulling a poetry book off the shelves and warming up inside and out.

We don't read poetry often, not often enough, but when you need poetry, you need poetry...even if just a little. It loosens the mind, makes you love the sound of words, and the images of words even more. The fiction writer Ray Bradbury, in his little book, "Zen and the Art of Writing," says writers should read poetry often because "it exercises muscles we don't use much."

So what poets have taken up residence in our house? There are three volumes of Whitman, of course. The old textbook I told you about, then a selection of poetry and photos  on death and dying, and then a small volume Susan gave me a few years ago as a gift, inscribed with a note saying she sees Whitman in my writing.

Then there are several volumes of Pablo Neruda. I love his work because you have the original Spanish on one page, and the English translation on the facing page.  You can see part of his life story in the movie Il Postino. At a writing conference in Albuquerque a few years ago we discovered Jimmy Santiago Baca, theChicano poet and legend, and we have some of his.

Also of southwest note, I have "Earth Apples," poetry and fire from the late Ed Abby, western troublemaker, author, rebel against progress, and icon. One valuable 1928 book "Turquoise Trail" is an anthology of New Mexico poetry with poems by Mary Austin, Willa Cather, Marsden Hartley, Paul Horgan, D.H. Lawrence, Vachel Lindsay, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Carl Sandburg and many more. I pick that book up and I'm back in The Land of Enchantment. Another is V.B. Price's "Chaco Trilogy."

From my years in Waurika, I have old copies of "Listen, The Prairies Speak" autographed by Vera Holding, and "A Prairie Woman Sings," by Waurikan Thelma Largent.

 Former American Laureate Billy Collins is in the house in "Sailing Alone Around the Room," and  "Nine Horses." I've got a 1967 Hallmark reprint of "The Poems of Doctor Zhivago," by Pasternak.

Recently I've started buying, every April,  the Wrangler Award winner in poetry from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. I'm a judge of their non-fiction contest, so we get free tickets. I'm struck by how these western poets--ranchers and rural people you've never hear of, capture images of the contemporary West. From two years ago I have "The Last Buffalo," haunting poems about the  decline of rural population in the Dakotas. And somewhere in this house is last years' winner, "Poems from Dry Creek."

Who else in on the shelf? An old volume of Rod McKuen stuff from hippie days.  John Erskine's 1925 "Sonata and other poems." A  beautifully illustrated 1935 copy of A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad." A 1937 first edition of  Everett Wentworth Hill,'s "Toward the Sun."

Still missing somewhere in this house is "Silver in the Sun," a very old book about the Canadian north.

In 2006 my mother's baby brother, E.T. Culp of Nacogdoches, Republic of Texas,  gave me a 1940 volume of Robert Service poetry, "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone." He could even quote from it. It was the last time I saw him, and his signature in it is a special gift now that he has died. No wonder I love the musty smell of old books.

Going through all those books  and arranging the poetry books makes me think I also need a John McPhee shelf, a Tony Hillerman corner, a Larry McMurtry corner,  a Joseph Conrad nook, a Harry Potter line, two New Mexico shelves... and at least a couple of shelves of books about writing. My art books already occupy two full shelves in the studio. But we're running out of shelves and corners and aren't that organized. If it was too organized, it'd be boring.

But having a poetry corner isn't. Why? ...

"When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd and yet shall mourn with ever returning spring.

"Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love."


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