And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love . . .
—Hart Crane, “The Broken Tower”
Into the company of love it all returns.
—Robert Creeley, “For Love”
or a dinner invite I think of company as something
you work for. In its absence I cling to its promises
with a childlike faith in mutual understanding,
when in fact, even in childhood, one kid was
always the boss.
—Jennifer Moxley, “Coastal”
“Company” is a word associated with poet Robert Creeley. It is also one of the watchwords of the poetry community I have been in dialogue with, in some small way or another, since first I stepped foot in a workshop, back in 1985.
There is both a romance and an ambivalence to the word, a hopefulness and a bit of failure.
I shall use this digital space to honor and remember some of the company that has moved and changed me, fellow writers in dialogue with whom I developed my thinking and craft, those poets who have inspired and taught me, friends and contemporaries, as well as influential elders and those just happening on the scene.
Slow Silt the Sky; or, What Experience Hotly Affords
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene . . .
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
Probably the opposite is true:
No one thinks about you.
There is no banner across the mind
Of the people you love whether
They’re reminded of you or not-you
And no patience for a life worth
Living beneath the brute force one
Constitutes against the self
In order to renegotiate its wisdom—
To try and blur the edges of it
Until it bounds into inclusivity,
Marks the unknown as part of its
Territory (for a thousand “hits”
On your website what would you
Do, how far beneath in the sun
Would you sink and how low
In the cry of a latter day hawk go)
The stars are all turning to stone
The inches are gathering brighter
The branches of trees sway back
And forth with the same sense of
Purpose as a conductor’s arms—
Ivy grows, a child’s voice snaps
The silence in half, a near shriek
But it is one of joy, playing outside
Where starlings now fall and fall
Like reading music across a score,
Note by note, and gently, and this
Is what you would return to,
The music, of course, but quietly
Seeing, too, the taupe-grey swift
Downturn of timothy in the grass
Sullen with rain at the ingress
Of Spring, the ring of feathers
Where a catapult hawk dipped
And crushed a red robin’s breast,
The torsion of it, a living force
Snuffed out in its sobriety,
The drugless bird stolen away,
And the fire that is natural to trees
Blowing in the wind below me.
Thanks to Jason for letting me host his poem “Slow Silt the Sky; or, What Experience Hotly Affords,” which is included his second manuscript.
When I met Michael Gizzi in spring of 1990, his reputation preceded him. His brother Peter was a new friend of ours and talked often of Michael in ways that inspired fear and wonder, with a stress on fear. When I finally found myself in a room with him, I half expected him to give me the brush off, or maybe pull my hair. Neither happened.
That spring Michael and Clark Coolidge gave several readings in the Providence area. The first I remember was in the Barrington elementary school auditorium, where, according to my journal, “it was deadly quiet and four elderly ladies sat three rows back.” To be honest, I didn’t take to Michael’s reading style at first. In the same journal I describe him as a “Captain Kirk in a Jean-Luc Picard world.” This sounds kind of mean, but let me just say that I’m a big fan of both captains. And the analogy still strikes me as somewhat accurate. There was something retro about Michael. He was a hard-guy noir hero who had shown up in an increasingly emo rom-com world. But, you know what, over the years I have come to realize that he actually wasn’t a hard-guy at all. Just like the true noir hero, beneath that surface smirk was a heart of jello. While in Providence, Michael and Clark came to one of the Twin Peaks watching parties Steve and I had (I think we were the only ones around with a color TV). They were there for the episode with the backwards-talking dwarf scene, which freaked us all out. Exactly ten years later, in spring of 2000, Michael and Clark came to Maine to read in the New Writing Series. They were one of five readers that spring, the others being Ted Enslin, Amiri Baraka, and Robert Creeley. Every member of this company, except for Clark, is now gone.
Over the years, Michael was very generous to me. Whenever he had the ear of an editor, or a genuine editorial gig—Lingo, Pressed Wafer, Shiny—he always invited me to send poems, and he always published at least one of them. Michael did a lot more “literary service” that one might imagine, because he didn’t talk about it much. Case in point: I remember Bill Corbett praising Michael’s painstaking proofreading of James Schuyler’s Letters, though Michael himself never mentioned it. To the books I sent him over the years he always responded, and always said something kind.
In Michael’s last years, when he lived in Providence, Steve and I often shared a meal with him on our bi- or tri-annual visits chez Waldrop. It was during this period that Steve, realizing there were no recordings of Michael on PennSound, arranged to have the 1997 cassette he had made of Michael reading No Both digitized. Listening to him read these wonderful poems now, I wonder at my younger self’s lack of appreciation for his reading style—it seems so self-evidently good.
After Michael died, Steve found this note in a used copy of The Sense Record. The tone is hesitant and slightly formal, as if I’m writing to someone I barely know. It makes sense, because, hours in his company aside, I’m not sure I ever really knew Michael. He could seem shielded behind bon mot and biting wit. But I was only a secondary or tertiary figure in his life. That he had a genuine gift for friendship is evident in how incredibly loyal his close friends are. Two of them, Clark Coolidge and Craig Watson, have now edited his Collected Poems, a 550-page volume published by The Figures, the press of a third dear friend of Michael’s, Geoffrey Young. Here’s a review of it by Magdalena Zurawski.
Both Clark and Geoff are mentioned in this postcard. Michael occasionally wrote short letters, but more often he sent postcards. Usually the image on the front was a black and white pic of a jazz musician, or retro American scene. This contemplative image by Andrew Wyeth, titled Chambered Nautilus, is atypical. The way the figure’s gaze is turned toward the illuminated window evokes a dreaminess, a parting, an otherworldliness echoed by the luminescent nautilus at foot of the bed.
Here’s a picture of me with Robert Creeley at the University of Maine in 2001. Robert Creeley was an important influence from the very beginning. I had admired his work for years, and then had the good fortune to meet and know him a little. Though I was never his student, he was impeccably generous toward me and my work. He even chose my poem “Behind the Orbits” to include in The Best American Poetry. While some of my poems show his influence in cadence or line break or through direct quotation (see “Though Crowded” in Imagination Verses), others are pure homage. See “Little Brick Walk” in The Sense Record, or “In Creeley’s Wake” in Clampdown. I also wrote about him in my essay “Lyric Poetry and the Inassimilable Life.” I miss him.
Lee Ann Brown and Lisa Jarnot were good friends whom I met when I was in graduate school at Brown during the early 90s. Lee Ann was ahead a class, but Lisa and I were in the same year.
With Lee Ann Brown in Providence. She’s just given me Daisy Aldan’s The Destruction of Cathedrals for my graduation from Brown’s MFA. Just last year I wrote about Aldan’s translation of Mallarmé’s “Sonnet en xy.” You can read an excerpt in Poetics.