I. I’m not a professor, nor an antifessor.
II. A California poet Robinson Jeffers, ejected from tribe by critics led by Yvor Winters of Stanford University, warned against creature-specificity wherewith humans are placed way up & over the top of the pecking order.
III. Howard Zinn who died recently said “…human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. San Francisco poet/ philosopher/ teacher Lawrence Fixel who died several years ago might well have added: “But we know that already.”
IV. Fixel may have also added here: “Beyond the Name and Number/ We forget and we remember.” It’s he, junior companion in the depression era WPA writers’ project of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, student of A.R. “Archie” Rosen and Isidore Schneider, who came up with what I call FIXEL’S LAW for poets/ writers: 4 simple injunctions that are 1. begin where you are; 2. learn from the material; 3. believe in the process; 4. become your own reader.
V. I will here also invoke the name Paul Valery, a French Poet/ philosopher/ teacher who’s ART OF POETRY says in “A Poet’s Notebook” “….the habit of long labor at poetry has accustomed me to consider all speech and all writing as work in progress that can nearly always be taken up again and altered; and I consider work itself as having its own value, generally much superior to the product….no doubt the product is the thing that lasts and has, or should have, a meaning of itself and an in-dependent existence; but the acts from which it proceeds, in so far as they react on their author, form within another person more skillful and more in possession of his domain of memory….a work is never necessarily finished, for he who made it is never complete, and the power and agility he has drawn from it confer on him just the power to improve it….he draws from it what is needed to efface and remake it. this is how a free artist, at least, should regard things. And ends by considering as satisfactory only those works that have taught him something more….”
VI. western Americans josephine miles, ann stanford, richard hugo, theodore roethke were supremely fine poets, wonderful critical writers, gifted teachers. lawrence fixel, stanley burnshaw and northrup frye in my experience were great thinkers who understood poetry, and fixel and burnshaw wrote it well.ee cummings, extraordinary poet, was also a painter and novelist, as was d. h. lawrence who as well as exquisite poems wrote stories, criticism. i ended selling pencils & books, was a gardener & oddjobsman , few years a teacher, and worked 6 years for US dept of health education and welfare.many times, i thought and many times i just blurted or bled onto paper. some fine poets represented their times while here i maundered morning into noon. seriously a poet from my noon in my 20?s until now my moonrising my vocation came to me and to which i surrendered willingly. never in early days believing i could be an elevated poet, but i have been a worker poet for many gifts may be small ones, yet be real.living in a time and place where it has been possible, in the end i have written as i breathe, and lucky to do both.
VII. poetry is an odd, restricting term. marianne moore (“i too detest it…but find in it ….”) and william carolos williams (“but men die every day for want of what is found there….”)–or something like that. but the forms and the meter and syllables and the cadence and the syncopation and the lineation are ball-breakers. i don’t want to censor myself when i am writing with the corset of the word “poetry”. just start writing. later you may discover a seed there and if not then you have some compost for some other seeds. time to destroy/ to discover said lawrence fixel in a long poem of his of that title published by panjandrum press in San Francisco in 1972.
VIII. i hate poetry that restricts you. but in it miss marianne moore said there is a place for the genuine. and i love what is genuine. it’s worth pursuing. i don’t feel sincere, nor insincere. one grows into technique and into one’s own vocabulary. and it’s a good idea to play/ really PLAY/ with the forms. in the early 1970?s william dickey and i were in the same group who met monthly sometimes at his place. bill was a forms & technique genius, the best i have ever known and it didn’t hurt his poetry. he’d say: ed, you know what you have here is…with a twitch here or a tweak there…a rondo…a villanelle…..and you can work it that way if you want…or not, he’d add. sometimes it helped the poem to do so. i liked having my choice about final shaping, but i never liked writing to a form. my way is not that. (of course, another person may do or feel differently.) things got up my nose. but that made my path..i went to n.r.crozier technical high school in dallas, texas beginning 1951 and had this (many thought ‘severe’) woodshop teacher mr. butler who wanted us not to get hurt with the tools, some of them quite dangerous –the electric planer, the table saws, and so on–: he was a magnificent teacher teacher and quite nice to me. not once did i get that big paddle that was used judiciously and forcefully and it seems not infrequently. he must have been in his 40?s then and loved differences in woods and form as a stimulus to invention.
i keep banging out stuff with no publication plans and don’t think of them as ‘privishings’ (as lawrence fixel spoke of work assigned to the drawer vs publishing work that you consciously decide to send out).
“there” is where they come from: ‘there’, for the inside to outside and i don’t pay attention to the shape the outside becomes. of course, i may change it, reshape it by mixed arrangements. operating not simply without shame or style but from impulse (pulse)because i feel the time is a worn thread. a dumpster of memory and idea that is only phenomenologically momentarily necessary. if the moment passed without proceeding and how to make poetry work fun. if fun is the right word here and is it poetry if it isn’t fun in the making no matter how serious the content? well maybe, but i’d have to fiddle with the ‘fun’ concept. “making” is the operative word really: and the pleasure or satisfaction of making something well and the thrill of the doing in the making. i feel so limited here. sand tray therapy and the use of masks then as well about the-GIVE-and TAKE-congress-of-relations. here’s my poem:
There is a stranger within me,
an intruder who is not me
and is a part of me.
We co-exist and yet
it’s the other who habitates
as I exist
who swallows and I drink
who’ll die when I die,
or so I think
Edward Mycuewas born in Niagara Falls, New York, raised in Texas. Was a Teaching Fellow at North Texas State; Lowell Fellow at Boston University; WGBH-TV Boston intern; Macdowell Colony Fellow; a Peace Corps teacher in Ghana. Books are: Damage Within the Community, Chronicle Root Route Range, Root Route & Range Song Return, Paper Castle. Recently Nightboats, Mindwalking, I am a Fact Not a FictionSong of San Francisco. firstname.lastname@example.org