"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The pages of February and life

The cover read
"Unpacking the Boxes"
"A memoir of a life in poetry."

It was sitting in a pile of books by the bed, where Susan keeps a bunch she intends to read, or is reading (she reads every night before going to sleep). After my reading splurge in January, I'd barely picked up a book this month, and needed something to refresh the soul. A couple of other attempts were travels to the edge of the desert--one or two pages, and then aridity of interest.

But when I saw the title, I thought of my column on "Momma's glasses." I'm also moving from one office to another--the third move in seven months. I've packed and unpacked and repacked. Now that I'm moving into smaller, more public quarters in the university center for the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the book also grabbed my attention. I've sifted through books and notes and  mementoes that made my office in the old journalism department a nest. Most of it won't fit, and perhaps isn't appropriate with a new life. Identity is changing, like the contents of boxes. So six or seven of those boxes are now at home in the garage. I've discovered, just like my closet that is full of clothes I rarely wear--my book shelves were full of books I rarely use at work.

Most of the stuff I've kept can fit into about four boxes, and much of that is installed on shelves now. There's still things to hang on the walls, other books and idea food to come. But I've unpacked boxes again. It's theraputic, because the books and stuff all carry memories, and identity. 

So here is this book by Donald Hall, poet laureate of the U.S.  in 2007-2008. He's 16 years older than me, and he gets his title from moving to his parents New Hampshire farmhouse after his mother dies. I'm halfway through, but anyone who writes poetry, or writes, or goes through life change, should read this personal prose from a prolific poet.

He speaks to me, and I'm enthralled by listening him write about days at Harvard and Oxford, and I see some common ground -- his family  drove Studebakers and he was a Brooklyn Dodgers Fan, and watched the 1955 World series like I did when they finally beat The Yankees, on a small black and white TV.

I teased you with a couple of quotes yesterday.  Here are more:

"For weeks I unpacked boxes, releasing the beginning decades of a life...."
"In childhood nothing happened."
"A father who weeps is a gift to his son."
"My imagination of school was identical to my imagination of heaven."
"Losses make even stronger memories than transgressions."
"I think she was a victim inside herself of a war of two landscapes and two cultures."
"In her profound attachment to family, she needed to keep two worlds separate--so she lied, she lied and lied."
"The usual threesome by daylight, we entered the underside at night. Duplicity, and my concurrence with the duplicity, fed my appetite for the wicked and extraordinary."
"I kept a record of what I read, not for anyone else's eyes, but with a greed of acquisition."
"Poetry was secret, dangerous, wicked and delicious."
"...war was the weather everyone walked in."
"I loved it that I was an alien; it was more agreeable being an alien among adults than among school mates."
"'Do you write poems?' he said. 'Yes. Do you?' He hesitated a moment, out of drama, not shyness. 'It is my profession.' I had never heard anyone speak so thrilling a sentence."
"Walt Whitman was distantly and dimly behind them...."
"The city was an aphrodisiac."
"WhenI had finished a paragraph he would rip it out of the typewriter and dispatch it to composition. He wore a green eyeshade."
"Let us rejoiced to inhabit a province of clones in a country of sarcasm."
To a visitor from the planet of antiquity, the Exeter of our moment does not resemble its ancestor."
"Every enormity is performed for  the good of its victim."
"It is students, not teachers, who make any class memorable."
"I determined that I would work on my poems until the blood boiled in my veins."
"I was old enough to know that publishing a book, or being praised, does not mean you are good."
"I  stayed in my single room, in love with silence and solitude, in love with writing poems."
"I was a 'solophiliac.'"
"There was one English teacher--is there always one teacher?"
"If you come from the South you are dumb; if you come from California you are a kook; if you come from the Midwest you are boring, naive and a Republican."
Chiardi--"...two afternoons a week he plunged like a fullback intot he classroom." "He became his money's victim....a caricature of greed."
To a coed: "I walked all through you."
"The war was the landscape of our senior year."
England--"...emperialism hanging from its shoulders like a moth-eaten cape."
"At Oxford, poetry was an attitude, not an art."

Note: K. Lawson Gilbert, online friend and poet in Pennsylvania, you probably know all about him, but if not, you'll love this book.


  1. This post is a gift on a snowy day...thanks. I have been reading Hall for many years. He is a plain spoken rural poet, whose simple words astound me. He uses sincere words to create fearless and dazzling work! I also admire, very much, his deceased wife, Jane Kenyon. I read her work every week, as a matter of course. Great work here, Terry, as always. And huge KUDOS on winning The Best Writer award. You certainly deserve it, my friend!!

  2. Kay,

    I feel so ignorant on this stuff...why have I not heard of him and her before...

    and of course, I'm projecting here--a professor in love with a student, and marrying a student--

    how's that for a confession?

  3. I think it is like anything else, Terry. Things come into our lives at a time when we are ready for it or need it. From what you have posted on your blog, you are finding an affinite soul in Donald Hall! You, after all, are a seeker!


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