Saturday, August 15, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Patrick Grizzell on William Stafford


     The last time I saw William Staffordwe were standing near a table at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival where Muhammad Ali, surrounded by a pressing crowd, was signing copies of his autobiography. We were both a little star-struck. Stafford had been signing at a table too. His crowd had been much smaller - “an occasional gathering of the faithful” is how he put it. A few years later, when he died, I thought (and wrote) about that day, about him, about how he sees it, and how he writes it.
    I thought about him a lot today, too. All day, big tanker planes flew back and forth over my house en route to fighting the fires in the Sierra foothills. I thought of his time fighting fires as part of his conscientious objector work during WW2. I thought of his integrity, his practical way of seeing the world, of being true to it and willing to pay for that truth, and the little miracles he makes when he writes it down. He is down in MY heart, a frequent visitor who always offers clarity and a persistent gnawing to get to the meat of it.

     Here is a favorite little poem of his:


They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.

Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing

Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
places where the scars will be.

(from An Oregon Message, Perennial, 1987)

article (c) 2015 Patrick Grizzell, poem (c) 2015 Estate of William Stafford

Bio: Patrick Grizzell is a poet, songwriter and visual artist. His books include Dark Music, Chicken Months (about which Robert Bly wrote, "... the poems have a sweet spontaneity and tenderness."), Minotaure Into Night (with sumi paintings by Jimi Suzuki), and the recently published chapbooks, 13 Poems, and It's Like That. He has a full length collection, Writing in Place, under way. He was a founding member and previous director of, as well as an editor for, the Sacramento Poetry Center. He has performed poetry and music with, among others, Allen Ginsberg, Leon Redbone, Gary Snyder, Jim Ringer and Mary McCaslin, Edward Sanders, Taj Mahal, Shizumi Shigeto, William Stafford, Robert Creeley and Anne Waldman. Grizzell studied art and literature at CSUS with Maya Angelou, Dennis Schmitz, Eugene Redmond, Kathryn Hohlwein, John Fitzgibbon, Jimi Suzuki and others.
  Grizzell's  band, Proxy Moon, will release a CD later this summer. John Lee Hooker once said he "sound pretty good" on the dobro.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Touchstone Poets Series: Lynne Thompson on Pablo Neruda

And it was at that agepoetry arrived in search of me

Like many poets, I began scribbling verse at a young age.  (With any luck, my sister-in-law will never feel compelled to share the poem I wrote when she married my brother.)  Post-college, my desire to write poems dissipated as other priorities took hold.  That is, until I walked into Los Angelesmuch-lamented Duttons bookstore and plucked a copy of Pablo Nerudas Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair from  the shelf.  I didnt know then about the scope of Nerudas oeuvre or his Nobel Prize or his political and diplomatic careers.  What I knew was that when I read and you are like the word Melancholy./I like for you to be still and you seem far away and I no longer love her, thats certain, but maybe I love her./Love is so short, forgetting so long, I was hookedand not merely hooked by the romantic notions these words conveyed but by the musicality that made them unforgettable.  These poems would teach me that the music of the line is what makes poetry.

What I didnt know was that I would be enchanted by other facets of Nerudas poetry, as well.  His curiosity, for example, as reflected in The Book of Questions:  how do the oranges divide up/sunlight in the orange tree? or and what is the name of the month /that falls between December and January? or in the sea of nothing happens/are there clothes to die in?  These whimsical, philosophical mediations are eternally delightful meals for any writers consumption.

I came to learn, too, of Nerudas passionate political commitments in reading A Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for the Chilean Revolution where he begins by invoking Walt Whitman, relying on his  gray hands,/so that, with your special help/line by line, we will tear out by the roots/and destroy this bloodthirsty President Nixon and continuing, in praise of his homeland for Chile, for her blue sovereignty,/for the ocean of fisherman,/for the copper and the struggles in the office,/for the bread of nightingale children,/for the sea, the rose and ear of grain,/for our forgotten countrymen…  Of course, were still living in a country that clings to the types of political stances Neruda reviled and we would do well to follow his lead in calling out those who promote them, whether in Washington, D.C., Texas, or anywhere else in the country.

I also learned that, despite his concerns with political issues in his homeland, Neruda maintained a deep concern and keen observation for ordinary things.  One only has to read his odes (among my favorites:  Ode to a Pair of Socks, my feet were/two woolen/fish/in those outrageous socks/two gangly/navy-blue sharks/impaled/on a golden thread and Ode to Clouds, giant feathers/ of light, nests/of water/and now a single/filament/of flame or rage.  I re-read the odes as a constant reminder to look and look again to make sure Ive looked as closely as possible.

The references above dont begin to do justice to the breadth of the work of Pablo Neruda.  The Poetry of Pablo Neruda published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2003 is almost 1000 pages and Copper Canyon Press has recently announced the upcoming publication of his lost poems.  These are all poems to be read and re-read; that send me running to my pens and papers in the hope that a little of Nerudas magical genius will rub off so I can write the first, faint line/faint, without substance pure/nonsense,/pure wisdom/of someone who knows nothing

Note: All italicized lines of poetry are written by Pablo Neruda

Bio: Lynne Thompson’s first collection, Beg No Pardon, won the Perugia Press Book Award and the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award.  Start With A Small Guitar is her second full-length manuscript and follows the publication of two chapbooks: We Arrive By Accumulation and Through a Window.  A Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and the Summer Literary Seminars, her poems have been widely published includng Ploughshares, Sou’Wester, and Crab Orchard Review and are forthcoming in the African American Review and Prairie Schooner.  Thompson is Reviews & Essays Editor of the California journal, Spillway.

Lynne Thompson's author page is here.

copyright 2015 Lynne Thompson