"Bly’s poetry is often categorized as part of the deep image school of writing, in which the poet employs a system of private imagery; however, Bly’s wish is not to create a personal mythology, but rather to describe modern American life through powerful metaphors and intense imagery. [...] Hugh Kenner, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that 'Bly is attempting to write down what it’s like to be alive, a state in which, he implies, not all readers find themselves all the time.'"
The Poetry Foundation
Letter to Bly Thirty-Nine Years After Your Note to Me
by George Kalamaras
So my hound dog has pulled it off the shelf
this evening. She has great taste. Sometimes
it’s a Jimi Hendrix cd, or maybe something
from George Harrison. Tonight it’s your book,
Robert, This Tree Will Be Here
for a Thousand Years. Apparently,
it is, to her sense of hound-dog time—stable
as a floating rib. Something to inhale and paw
and wag over and—if given the chance—
mouth and tear apart, leaves of a book
and the autumn fires with which you signed it
thirty-nine years ago. And I weave my way
back, gently taking it from her, opening
to page forty-five, “Pulling a Row Boat Up
Among Lake Reeds,” a page which holds
your footprint. How did it get there?
What were the karmic steps it took
to draw me to that book one autumn
and to your reading that evening? I remember
the scent of fall. 1979. The book just out.
A packed auditorium
in Bloomington, Indiana. You had
forgotten it. Asked if someone
in the audience could lend you a copy.
And I was there. Shy, young poet
who needed a nudge from—unknown
to him—his soon-to-be-wife
to lend you his book from which you
read and danced and sang, playing
your bouzouki, hair wild as a hawk’s
nest in a storm as if you were
an ancient bard
dropped from an Aegean island
at some faraway port where windy languages
meet. Later, you signed the book for me
in your customary green ink
so that I might always remember,
I suppose, the fertility of your words
in your poems and in what you wrote
to me: With thanks for the loan
of this book, during the reading,
and for the loan of your face
with so much liveliness and aliveness.
The soil you planted in me, through me,
all these thousands of days
as I walk here to there, Robert,
among hound dogs and weeds
and crunched catalpa leaves
Like pulling a rowboat up
among lake reeds
where I see
or where I imagine
and grief flowers.
Nouns only, or nouns
and verbs? The way
our words do two things at once
like stepping into a book and
into the world. You left your footprint
indelibly in this book,
as you set it on the floor
between poems, telling stories, dancing
and reciting, ecstatic as Kabir and Rumi
before you, marking page forty-five
with the steps you had taken to arrive
all those years into my life in Indiana
that certain evening, though
it just as easily could have been
page thirty-eight, stamped
with your weight
into my favorite poem
the book still opens to
naturally, as if it is always
about to speak
what I most need. So tonight,
my dog had hound sense—
some moon-wood path in her
snout—pulling it off
the shelf to remind me
how my voice is in hers,
yours in mine. And the moon’s
in all of ours. All three at once.
For what we think
must surely be a thousand years.
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.
* * *
Read George Kalamaras's previous letters to:
- John Haines
- Dan Gerber
- Li Ch'ing-chao
- Dick Hugo, February, 2018, and also in 2014.
- Federico García Lorca
- Bill Tremblay
- Gerrit Lansing
Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us through your own.
* * *
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 email@example.com for more information.