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J Cage: Music is permanent; only listening is intermittent

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Eryn Green Reviews Indian Summer Recycling at Interim: A Journal of Poetry & Poetics

 "Certainty in these poems is recognized as a violence, and one with a quiver of attendant dangers, like oppression, delusions of grandeur and of superiority, and the profound poetic risk of not seeing the ever-shifting world, with all its joys and sorrows, that is always in front of you, and never standing still."

HUGE thanks to Eryn Green for his incredibly generous, tender reading of Indian Summer Recycling (the magnificent field, 2019) that begins with and returns to Emerson's "Circles," an essay that Kirsten and I incorporated into our wedding vows.
Thanks kindly to all the folks at Interim: A Journal of Poetry & Poetics!

Evan Gray reviews Indian Summer Recycling for DIAGRAM

 "Death, dying, decaying is a generative, natural process in Indian Summer Recycling. This requires a new perspective, one that constantly needs reframing.How we each ache and long to be put to rest in ways similar to the 'Spent firework in the grass' that 'must have been some pretty thing.' How we long to become 'Micronutrients from decomposers' that are small but necessary to lifeforms, like the 'Hatchling insects' which 'obscure the clarity of the riverbed,'" etc.

So grateful for Evan Gray's tender and enthusiastic response to Indian Summer Recycling (The Magnificent Field, 2019)--much of which was written nearby Evan's hometown, Jefferson, NC--in the new issue of DIAGRAM! So glad to be caught up in echoes with so many friends there: Kathryn Cowles, Christopher Patton, Adam Tedesco, Shira Dentz.

James Knippen reviews Indian Summer Recycling for Tarpaulin Sky

 “These poems call us to reflect on how our lives impact and are impacted by nature in ways we don’t typically think about, even as our attention and our memories are composted by a living, moving world, constantly recycling itself.”

Dang! I’m so grateful for James Knippen’s incredibly generous, holistic, and insightful take on Indian Summer Recycling for Tarpaulin Sky. It keys into so many attentions that were central to way these poems happened/happen to be speaking to each other.

Salt Lake City Art

 Mightily glad for another go-round with Salt Lake City Art during quarantine this spring. 

Hope you’re well, hunkered down in the nest with all your sweethearts.
Thanks kindly to Joel Long and City Arts for having me! Shout-outs to Jen Tynes, horse less press/ The Magnificent Field . “Dog Creek” is for Kirk Keen.

Thursday, November 28, 2019



For Frankie (and all of us who love him)

What difference, then, twixt “universe” and “least”?
No difference at all! For though the Sum
be utterly infinite, still those smallest bits
will consist likewise of just as infinite parts.

            —Lucretius, The Nature of Things

Lorine Niedecker’s work gives testimony to the weird kinship between imaginative process and the constant transformational gravity of nature. It remembers that the (material and spiritual) facts of a life are natural facts, locating them accordingly. She looks to nature for company and instruction, with curiosity, good humor, and humility as the similitude of natural process overtakes the singularity of experience.

on the minnow bucket

and a school of leaves
moving downstream (from Autumn, 1965-1967)

The directives of her poem “Tradition” have been with me for many years and its attempt to compass loss has been on my mind in the wake of our beloved dog Frankie’s death. Part one of acknowledges a grand statement of poetic agency that we must all come to terms with (“Thy will be done”). Part two challenges the simplicity of this statement (and the relinquishment it represents) to suggest that the onward movement of things is fundamentally collaborative, setting resolve to work the soil, tending to life and its commotion like a garden, e.g. to meet the maker at work.

The chemist creates
        the brazen
        Thy will be done

Time to garden
            before I
to meet
            my compost maker
            the caretaker
of the cemetery.

“Tradition” knows that poetic composition involves layers of activity that include accretion and cessation as perspective and capability manifest, giving way at intervals. It’s also a call to further creation while we’re here with gratitude and good conduct, knowing that we’ll return to the primordial heat of compost across the threshold of making.

Waking up to write without Frankie for the first time this fall in almost fourteen years amplifies his company and absence. He has been—and will be—a part of the most intimate cosmology of our family and has been intimately involved in all of my imaginative work. You can see the lines of his fur photo copied inside the drafts of old poems and you can see traces of him everywhere throughout In the Marble of Your Animal Eyes (Publication Studio, 2013), Every Living One (horse less press, 2015), Indian Summer Recycling (The Magnificent Field, 2019), essays and all other writing that has happened on the side. I tend to write while I’m walking and we were always walking together… Up around White Chapel in Salt Lake City (UT), alongside the St. Claire River (MI), through the old arboretum in Tuscaloosa with my wife, K, before we were married (AL), past pastures accompanied by roadside chicken (NC), way up on the ridge with my son, G, tucked into my jacket in a carrier when he was a baby while fog burned off the trees (NC), and again in what has become our neighborhood in Cottonwood Heights these past few years (UT).   

It’s hard to say what the creative work we do means (to us or anyone), but it tracks the change these walks made way for and provides company (somehow) that I desperately long for in ways that are daily and ordinary. It’s easy to point to circumstances that draw me away from it. The ones who remind me to precarious attention are few and far between. Frankie has always been keeping time to hunker down, eat, walk, and play. The routines we made together have always been a through-line, reminding me to presence. And, even in the unbearable absence of his tags rattling, I feel like our walks were preparing me to reflect and say goodbye…

P/ pR / rI/ iS/ sM/ mS/ s
While light cuts into the layered stalks of weeds
A catechism poor as purple thistle
Wide distance from ash to black fur
Measured in countless thin yellow flowers
            —excerpt from “Tinder is a hatchet job”
(Indian Summer Recycling, 2019) *written July of 2009


This fall, I can tell you the distance from three-and-a-half-year-old black fur to ash is almost exactly ten years.

*          *          *

make time
for work
domestic labor



make time

to feel

burn or

float on

This free-write (5.2019) forecasts where we were at the same moment with terrible exactitude on the last day of July, a couple of months later: one to the crematorium and another, heartbroken, drifting down a river with a five-year old ginning ear-to-ear in his lap.

Shattering clarity reminds me work is attention (and prophecy) that allows us to practice, prepare to meet loss, and understand grief as a part of a wider range of activity.

I feel overwhelmed by irreparable loss and by the small cedar box that houses what’s left of my friend’s beautiful body. A sudden and painful realization of the other side of the oldGregory Corso?joke that “dying is for squares.” The shape of Frankie's cedar box hovers like a broken row of pixels in my vision when I look to the sunflower he liked to chew on, it makes an awful rhyme with the carboard box he rode home in as a sickly, scared puppy with velvety eyes and kennel cough. Do your paws still smell like Fritos? Kirsten reminds me that Frankie would be a ninth grader now. It’s impossible to understand the permanence of this change and the gratitude I feel that he’s “home” with us again—I couldn’t sleep in the weeks we waited for his ashes because I didn’t understand what to do/where he was. Frankie used to sleep in our five-year-old Gus’ room and G has asked if we could pour some of Frankie’s ashes into his bed to keep him company. Instead we made up a game where we eat corndogs for dinner and steal them off from each other’s plates, in honor of one of Frankie’s great heist of a corndog off from G’s plate last fall. I eat the crust of the peanut butter sandwiches I pack for G’s lunch on my own and go out into the yard to lay in Frankie’s favorite spots. I know we’ll meet the same compost maker.

In Niedecker’s “Tradition,” temporality is a call to good conduct. Niedecker acknowledges the empowering buzz of presence, capability, and instincts put into the service of a garden of elemental space and experience that’s much wider than the scope of individual imagination. We garden for ourselves and, ultimately, for others to come. The garden hails (and eventually rests) us—the work and the rest are both our reward.

It’s hap   a bent corner post   
Allows a body   into the cemetery   
For rest   or winter grass
Where family names are   already   
Worn off the stones
It’s wild turkey scratch   around the roses
            —excerpt from “Shine an apple”
(Indian Summer Recycling, 2019) *written early spring 2011

Identifying the “caretaker” of the cemetery as “compost maker,” Niedecker allies the rest of death with activity—new life that will transform the cemetery back into a garden space. Part of what facilitates this change is the nutrient our attention(s), labor, and bodies bring to the soil.

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass celebrates the ecological wholeness of experience in the language of gardening as the poem’s music “bequeaths [itself] to the dirt,” entrusting the “corpse” of a fruitful perspective to futurity as “good manure” where it is entrusted to the “you”—a mantle we inherit as readers, estranged and dilated by the breath and energy of Whitman’s lines. What do we do with this trust…? We commit ourselves to “pass death with the dying and birth with the new washed babe,” e.g. we commit ourselves anew to the wholeness of the experience. We go to garage sales, play Transformers, work day jobs, and drift down a river laughing to honor the dead. My teacher and friend, Donald Revell reminds me that we read poems “to see where poetry has been”; we turn the compost to fortify the tomatoes and squash and remember what is.  

I talk to Frankie coming in and out of the house… I walk around the neighborhood and drink the milk he always used to finish out of my cereal bowl. I take a bite out of a sunflower. The dead companion us all the time; they remember a oneness where our shores dissolve into current.

This picture of Frankie wandering through the middle of an early draft of Indian Summer Recycling in the summer 2012 reminds me that the recording of poetry is fundamentally fluid and collaborative—a correspondence that’s being advanced as it’s pieced together by the (living and dead) community at large. It’s, thus, a place to keep and meet loved ones who have gone ahead.

Here’s Niedecker again:

I walked
on New Year’s Day

beside the trees
my father now gone planted

evenly following
the road

            spoke (from North Central)

Books are fields of energy and I have always laid them out across the floor—to live with them and think about the way poems speak to each other/make their own sense. Every Living One and Indian Summer Recycling laid around for weeks over the years, at intervals, collecting dust and doghair. Frankie would knock pages out and I would try to understand what it meant; he would curl up to take a nap right in the middle of poems written when we were 2, 3, 4, 5 years younger. When the first copies of Indian Summer Recycling arrive—almost exactly two months after Frankie has died—I’m flooded with gratitude that we are alive and well together there and terribly lonely when I set a copy on the little cedar box that houses his ashes.

Memory is a garden gone wild.