"Poetry, art in general, had to speak honestly in favor of life. Or shut up."
What I read, among the younger post-World War II generation, was an immense urgency. An emergency. Apocalyptic. The atomic bomb, the Death Camps, the fact that the Germans and the scientific geniuses of the United States had created this condition where the only two choices were transcendence or annihilation, this sense that humanity’s leaders had already abandoned individual moral choice, had abdicated to a systematic machinery, what I call the global Operating System—isn’t that kind of what Ginsberg meant by “Moloch”?—for making decisions, because what person with a shred of conscience could live with the incalculable horrors attendant on thermonuclear war? So, there was already this end of days feeling. Poetry, art in general, had to speak honestly in favor of life. Or shut up.
From "An Interview with Bill Tremblay" by William Ryan
Letter to Tremblay from Tie Siding
by George Kalamaras
I’m going to call you by your last name in the title,
Bill, because you’re football-coach tough. Something
that sometimes hurt, as if what you taught me
wasn’t just poems but how to loosen the nails
on the siding of the house. My house. The one
with shame. 1980 seems a long life away. July.
U-haul packed with stuff I didn’t much need.
I thought I was coming a long way to Fort Collins.
In some ways not. You were younger then
than I am now—by a decade and a half—
and you seemed so old. You were born old,
is what the father in It’s a Wonderful Life
told his son. And you were too. Which is likely why
you could see it in me. The boards. The doors.
The scaffolding that one day needed to be pried. Loose
in Tie Siding, I’m just eight miles across the border
into Wyoming. Cowboys still calm here
the plains. The only building in town,
a combination post office and flea
market, could be a set for a lonesome
Western script. Somebody inside
is surely tough, tearing to songs of lost
love, itching through a drunken grin
for a fist. I was never tough in that way,
but there was strength. Somehow
divorce at age three can skin a boy alive
and leave the carcass to rot. Only the farm kids
wore coveralls. There’s teenage cologne.
Years of jokes. Booze, which brings its own dying
scent. Something you knew, cleaning the vomit off Crumley
that night in the parking lot of the Charco-Broiler
off Mulberry in the Fort. Your whiskey vomit too,
there as reflux for the fathers
you nor I had. I’ve always loved
Tie Siding because it’s simple. How much
can possibly fuck-up in one sad tree lot
by one sagging ceiling off a lone Wyoming road?
How much is obscured? Seen? Cut
log upon cut log. Like lines
of a poem that can make or break.
Lines that might leave us looking pretty
without delving down into the urgency of now.
My house was rough. Untreated cedar planks
from Cedar Lake. Till Indiana teen years
brought splinters and the wet. Yours
was football stadium noise, not unlike
“the Big House” in Ann Arbor, though you came
from further east. And you tried to silence
it—even the cheers—drunk, in those days, with football
and the angels of Blake. Pioneering a town
like Fort Collins back then, wearing a hat
with the Star of Mao, made you tough up
at the bars among all the Stetsons. The body gets stiff,
holds the past. Shoulders ache. Words get stuck.
If we’re not careful the poems slow, leeching off
into others like cut blood. Fathers abandon sons.
Sons hide it in siding. All the untreated
years that absorb stain. I don’t much like
extended metaphors unless, of course, they elongate our lives.
Which is what our poems must do, even if the lengthening
is not time but depth. Remember our friend
Gene Hoffman? He said, Time is wider than it is long.
Which means only depth in this country
we claim big-sky wide. You meant that too, pushing
finally the bottle away, prodding
me into saying what needed to be
dead, even where it hurt. Now,
the tie hacks are gone since the railroad
tie industry quit many years
back. Too many trees were floated down
the Poudre from the North Fork
into a logjam in LaPorte. Things got stuck.
They needed to pry. Even dynamite
could only free so much. Okay, if we want
what poetry can grieve, metaphors too must die
to the hurt we need to speak inside.
You taught me that, although in saying so
just now my phrase goes flat.
Let me say thanks and leave it at love.
(for Bill Tremblay)
About George Kalamaras:
George Kalamaras is a former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016) and has published fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including The Mining Camps of the Mouth (2012), winner of the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM Chapbook Award, Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck (2011), winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Contest, and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (2000), winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.
Meet George (and his beagle Bootsie, among other animal presences) in an audio interview at Radio Free Albion. The interview celebrates, in part, issue 13 of Court Green, including George's poem “Dream in Which Kenneth Rexroth Counts to Eight.” Follow George on YouTube, the Indiana Poet Laureate page on Facebook, and at the Wabash Watershed.
* * *
For more info about Bill, his life, and career, visit A City of Words, from the Worcester Writers Project, and the amazing interview on the University of Louisiana at Monroe's turnrow site.
George recommends the following poems as an introduction to Bill's work:
Wellesley College welcomed award-winning poets Yusef Komunyakaa and Bill Tremblay to the Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities Distinguished Writers Series on September 24, 2013.
Watch the video at left, or click here.
* * *
Long Way From, Long Time Since features letters written from writers, to writers, living or dead. Send us your queries and inquiries, your best wishes and arguments, and help us explore correspondence as a creative form. For letter submission guidelines, visit our submissions page or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Read George Kalamaras's other letters to:
Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us through your own