A letter to Judith Emlyn Johnson. LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE.

Judith Johnson on "Writing and the Sense of Community":

The idea that writing is a solitary act of self-expression does not reflect my experience of writing, or of my own relationship to my community. Self-expression is certainly unavoidable, but not a useful primary goal. The self is the least interesting of the things art embodies, and this embodiment is less an act of expression, of pressing outward, than it is an act of inwardness, of registering, of careful attention. By emptying oneself of ego, of preconceptions, of the already known and experienced, one creates a space through which poetry, experience, life, may make its own way.

. . . All writers need this sense of community, so we do not get arrogant and distant and full of ourselves. The single most important thing any teacher of writing can do is to keep students firmly focused on their initial community as constituted by themselves, and their obligation, therefore, to learn from and nurture each other. The rest is technique, and it can be learned, but the sense of community is a central spiritual necessity.

From "Writing and the Sense of Community"


Letter to Judy from Colorado Springs

by George Kalamaras

This is the city of Nikola Tesla—how all that electricity could have been here and ignored. Buried in shafts. Released. I could spend lifetimes and never understand how a person could kill, claiming God, from lightning strikes on Pikes Peak to radium in the healing waters of Colorado and Manitou Springs. I hate the hotels. The bagels are boring. Part of me would rather giveth my human fur unto the muleskinners and the traps. Let me thank you, my darling, for the birds of prey overhead, for the hawk you sent decades before, keening through my gut. You called it by baby bird names. You called it Whitman and salt. Bachelard and phosphorous. Even Marie Ponsot and a cure for consumption. I never breathed so well as I do now. I never knew you in Belgium. Nor the uranium implanted in your once-twenty-eight-year-old throat. I never knew how in almost dying you could so clearly reach twenty years ahead into my grief. When they eat dirt, I understand earthworms are not merely feeding but are also digging a burrow. I could have spent decades longer as a hermit, before meeting you, content to carry a hut in my throat-latch thatch, and Whitman would have never discovered the line’s great ache, the dislocation of Long Island gnats in Conestogas in the Missouri Breaks. Was it you or Bachelard who slept all those years in the same bed with his idiot brother? How can I sleep with myself and allow my invisible woman body to make me more of a man? What can I finally bring you? Gift you? How shall I tell? When do we love without love? The death of the mother-mouth is all it takes for a rain curtain to fall, fiercely from the West. It is necessary, it is written, to be necessary. Given the expression of the thin-gummed man, there is so much we continue to hide. You once wrote of a great angry owl in search of its kill. You visited this place years before, though it was Aspen, writing poems with Paul Blackburn and becoming more of the world. There are cities of mathematics and cities of sleep. A poetics of generosity. What happens to the soul when the breath breaks apart into phosphorus and zinc? Mine tailings of raw religion have claimed this place from generations of Cheyenne. Have stripped it in a frightenly ancient way—fish by fish, fossil by fossil—from there to here. The imprint of the shy octopus in the rock can still bite—mixing poison in its saliva—and pull one’s diving mask off, dragging something almost human to the bottom of even these mountains. Oceans of prairie grass not that far east are not a cliché when one speaks of even one bone of the buffalo dead. Yes, I say buffalo, not bison. It is sometimes good to not be too precise. For the gush of gold, Judy. For the pour of ore that—with the Silver Bill Repeal—ached this place. For the sake of something more. We prayeth this city of Tesla, complete, return us unto the pores of the tongue—divine and electric, replete.

(for Judith Johnson)


(“Letter to Judy from Colorado Springs" previously appeared in Calibanonline, Issue 13, 2013)


About Judith Johnson:

Left to right: Heather Grady (friend), George Kalamaras, Judith Johnson, and Mary Ann Cain (George's wife), following a reading that Judy and Mary Ann gave at the Three Rivers Food Co-op, Fort Wayne, Indiana, November, 2004.

Judith E. Johnson (formerly, Johnson Sherwin), poet, fiction-writer, performance artist, and editor, is the author of eight poetry books, including Cities of Mathematics and Desire and The Ice Lizard (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005 and 1992). Her widely exhibited inter-media installation, "Friedrich Liebermann, American Artist," is forthcoming as a digital novel. Former President both of the Board of Associated Writing Programs, and of the Poetry Society of America, she is editor of 13th Moon Press, which publishes 13th Moon: A Feminist Literary Magazine, The Little Magazine, and starting in 2008, poetry, fiction and children’s books. Between 1955 and 1985, she published under her married name, Judith Johnson Sherwin. Now retired, she is Professor Emerita of English and Women’s Studies at the State University of New York at Albany. (Bio from Poets & Writers)

You can find examples of Judy's work at the Poetry Foundation, and read her essay, "A Poetics of Generosity" on her website.


About George Kalamaras:

Photo by Jim Whitcraft

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:

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 cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.


LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: "Letter to Bly Thirty-Nine Years After Your Note to Me"

"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

Robert Bly at the Poetry Out Loud Minnesota Finals at the FItzgerald Theater. 2009. Photo by Nic McPhee.


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

aching underfoot.
Like pulling a rowboat up
among lake reeds 

where I see
love-blossoms
and grief-flowers

or where I imagine
love blossoms
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.


 

In this installment, George reads and comments on the work of poet Robert Bly (1926-- ).


About George Kalamaras:

 Photo by Jim Whitcraft

Photo by Jim Whitcraft

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:

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 cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.


LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: A Letter to Gerrit Lansing (1928-2018), by George Kalamaras

"The writing/riting of poetry is for Lansing a testing of the human imagination against the creative and destructive powers of nature and the universe. It is the most serious of games and should only be played by those who would risk everything, but for those, there are worlds to gain."

"The Metaphysics of Gerrit Lansing"
by Robert Baker


Letter to Gerrit from Aurora

by George Kalamaras

On the plains east of Denver, near Aurora, sod huts lift a pioneer past. Say how the earth rises up to eat us. Kali Ma—you told me, the night we met, Gerrit—devours her young, transforming careful cattle-step into cosmic crust. It hurts to love this much. This deep. A weed is not the enemy. A dirty word. I repudiate the icicle of summer. I am completely Arctic, Hudson in my fur, in my response to the readings for the day—from Cixous, to Bakunin, to Francis Ponge, and The Secret Life of Plants. The decisiveness of a doorknob. The switchblade’s flung-sung. Music of the rib, especially when the breaths cease. The monstrous mustache of vulnerable underarm hair. The Heavenly Tree, you wrote, Grows Downward. The tree of yoga, body inverted, has hair as roots. Pushes particles of groin-fire up, back into the coal-shiver of the brain. Was it Sumeria or here in Aurora where we first met? How many lives ago? Friendship like ours doesn’t just speak. Which of us wrote a love note to the moon, begging it to enter, slantwise, our throat? The Lansings of Albany—our friend, Don Byrd, told me—spoke beauty. The lancings of Medieval England bloodlet disease, perforating the pluckings of a lute. When Wang Wei played his lute, pine trees bowed before him to drink of the willow? No. Wang Wei painted his toenails with turmeric, plants rising to coat his throat in strange hermit sage. How many men kneeled? How many women in sod huts died during childbirth? How many souls rushed to incarnate—at that place, at that time, on the Colorado plains—only to leave a three-day-old infant and return to the great edge of an echo?

My neighbor died this morning, passing one breath to the next. Eighteen years we breathed through one another, across the driveway, through the cedar siding, as we slept not thirty feet apart. It was sad as the sudden dust of childbirth up-thrust from the plains. Suddenly, I am middle-aged. More than sixty. I almost brought home the stray bluetick coonhound yesterday, even though my wife refused again and again. The blue and gray mottled ticking of my life is all mixed up, showing more and more through. Something clocked in Colorado’s sun-dead pines.

Last summer, the power stopped. Mary Ann and I fled a weekend to air-conditioned relief. Each night, outside the hotel so my beagle could pee, I saw a gorgeous short-skirted woman enter and leave with various men. She complimented my dog. Each morning, we small-talked—my hound sniffing weeds—over her first cigarette of the day. Baggy t-shirt, bare feet, no makeup mornings. The beautiful sore of her somewhat hoarse voice. Still, that gorgeous ass. Belle Watling. Bree Daniels. Baby Doe Tabor. I remembered all the wrong. The unsung drive keeping men alive. Killing them, one lay at a time.

There is a whalebone corset complaining my throat. The Garland of Letters, you told me, was the book I need. You told me your heart beats weak. I hear it across the continent loud as mouths, clacking Conestogas rutting the ruts. Here in Aurora with its sad-dried sod. Huts. Aching the ache. Deepening the Missouri Breaks.

(for Gerrit Lansing)

("Letter to Gerrit from Aurora" appeared originally in Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Issue 43, 2015)


About George Kalamaras:

 Photo by Jim Whitcraft

Photo by Jim Whitcraft

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.

* * *

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Gerrit Lansing

by Ruth Lepson

The 11th way of looking:
"11. Emerson was one influence on Gerrit, but it’s impossible to list all the influences, so wide-ranging are his knowledge and the depth of his understanding. He knows the history and practice of Tarot, Eastern and especially Western magic, gnosticism and hermeticism, Daoism, Vedanta and Zen, and wicca, sometimes speaking at esoteric gatherings in Salem on subjects unknown to and hidden from most of us poets. Certainly he’s a poet of the imagination and of non-dualism and eroticism. Add to that deep reading in depth psychology, phenomenology (especially of the Merleau-Ponty type), natha–a tantric form of yoga, linguistics and social theory, ecstasy and enstasy, the imaginism of Douglas Fawcett, Carl Ruck and his study of ecstatic ritual, Wallace Stevens, Coleridge, and Yeats, whom he loved but whom, he realized, it would be deadly to imitate."

* * *

George recommends:

"How We Sizzled in the Pasture" at the Poetry Foundation.

"The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward" on the Nomadics blog.

And also, that you enjoy:

Gerrit Lansing on Close Listening

Program One:
Gerrit Lansing reads selections from his collected poems, The Heavenly Tree / Northern Earth (North Atlantic, 2009) (26:40)

Program Two:
Gerrit Lansing talks with Charles Bernstein, and guest Susan Howe, at Lansing’s house in Gloucester, Mass.  (55:43)

Heavenly Tree Northern Earth Gerrit Lansing cover.jpg

* * *

Gerrit Lansing, the author most recently of Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth (2009), presents a “conspectus” of poems from his early years through to recent work. Introduced by Ruth Lepson, the recording session is followed by a brief oral history conversation focused on an array of subjects, including Gerrit’s friendships with John Latouche, Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson, Stephen Jonas, and John Wieners (among many others), as well as his role as the editor of the 1960s magazine, SET.


Read George Kalamaras's previous letters to:

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 cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.


LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: A Letter to Bill Tremblay

"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)

 

("Letter to Tremblay from Tie Siding" appeared originally in Court Green, Issue 12, 2015: 73-75. You can download that issue here.)


About George Kalamaras:

Photo by Jim Whitcraft

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.

* * *

Bill Tremblay at the Jacob Edwards Memorial Library Source JE lib tremblayjacob.jpg

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 cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.

Read George Kalamaras's previous letters to:

Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us through your own.


LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: Letter to García Lorca (from the Tenderly Brittle Language of Sassafras Hollows)

Image from Pinterest, portrait by Rinaldo Hopf

“Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.” 
From "Theory and Play of the Duende" by Federico García Lorca, as translated by A. S. Kline 

* * *

Like many biographies of Federico García Lorca (1898–1936), the Poetry Foundation's ends abruptly and tragically, with a telling line or two drawing the poet's life to its final moment: 

"In August 1936, at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, Lorca was arrested at his country home in Granada by Francisco Franco’s soldiers. He was executed by a firing squad a few days later." 

Jon Lee Anderson visits sites from the poet's life and death in his The New Yorker piece, "Lorca's Bones."

"The old execution ground at the cemetery was deserted when I visited late one recent afternoon, but a bouquet of red roses lay drying against the wall, beneath a cluster of bullet gouges. The impacts were roughly at the level of a standing man’s groin. I said as much to my companion, Juan Antonio Díaz, a professor of English and German philology at the University of Granada. He remarked, 'Not if you were kneeling. They would hit you at head height.'"

George Kalamaras carries us in this week's literary letter to a place where García Lorca's duende still lives across cultures and time, from García Lorca's own Generation of '27, to the fields and hollers of contemporary Indiana—where the duende “burns the blood like powdered glass,” and where, as García Lorca says, quoting an old maestro de la guitarra: “The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, through the soles of the feet.” 


Letter to García Lorca (from the Tenderly Brittle Language of Sassafras Hollows)

by George Kalamaras

A man is the size of his words. A hound dog,
     the width of a storm cloud embedded in a tornado.

Perhaps in searching for good health, dear
      Lorca, we squeeze the rain, mixing our words

with a stethoscope of sun. Imagine that.
     Sun dangling from the doctor’s neck.

When he places one end in his ear, he can hear
     rain raining itself apart inside each of the broken parts

of the world. I’ve come a long way from grasping the death-moon
     in Miguel Hernández’s throat. The moon I once read

in your poems, in his, nightly, in tea leaves
     before sleep and whispered into

and through, So much of me, too, is sore. Now it’s raccoon time.
     Bandit time. Time of the quicksand chest. Where I scuffle down

to the Great Dismal Swamp and step into the still stream
     to wash away all that threatens the food I’ve found in forest

trash. This ash heap and that could consult the oracle
     of trees. A zodiac of bone tossed from your Andalusian cosmos

and hidden—reluctant—in this body I lug here to there.
     From the baying of a bawl-mouthed hound

to everywhere at once. Yes, I am the infinite
     no searching for myself, in myself, in the letters inside

your name. No, I am not the yes about to mourn
     the moon. When Vicente Aleixandre’s animal

body howls at me from his primordial pain, I know—blessèd
     miracle—I can finally hear. When the pack of hounds—Redbone,

Bluetick, Treeing Walker Coonhound—sings to me the tenderly
     brittle language of sassafras hollows all the way

from southern Indiana hills, I know the world
     is good. With itself again. And will be. Even unto

the close of the throat. I am a man the size of my left good shoe,
     the size of wood-chipped words in the worm fence—my shoe,

the exact and holy way I let the hounds heavy in the stopgaps
     of a body delighted with the happy-sad of its step. Sure,

Luis Cernuda is lonely, still weeping in Mexico. And Rafael Alberti
     is forever marking the lost groves of Argentina with urine

and spit. These are my roots—your friends—sure as hound blood
     coursing the wood pile outside an Indiana cabin. The blood

of sunset in cornhusks, torn. Blood of hickory and sorrow.
     There is always some urgent General Franco

edict ordering us to give in to Andalusian cobble streets and moonlight
     peppering stones with shadows that separate out the dual citizenship

of a word. And the toll sleep exerts when even Lorca graves
     our words—that is, when you do, dear Federico—one trench lip

at a time, as if backwards we mend each rib electric as Whitman
     might his beautifully good mouth. I am only partially hound dog,

as I am partial in the way my mouth. As I am only part backwoods
     sorrow, part worldly news. How what we were mixes

with who we are. As if a landscape of death,
     where you saw that tiny feather on someone’s tongue,

and we lived a hundred years inside a knife. As if a graveyard,
     caught mid-sorrow, cannot complete the sentence

handed down to it from the core of the floating rib,
     suspended but not broken. As I flutter myself

unto the world. As I breathe in and out Indiana
     woodsmoke and remnants of the Spanish Republic

war-dusting my words, not here or there—
     or in your “Landscape with Two Graves

and an Assyrian Hound”—but somewhere in between.


About George Kalamaras:

Photo by Jim Whitcraft

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's previous letters to:

Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us through your own.

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Doorways to García Lorca's work:

George recommends "Landscape with Two Graves and an Assyrian Hound." The poem is included in Robert Bly's book Leaping Poetry: An Idea with Poems and Translations, following an also-recommended Bly essay, "Looking for Dragon Smoke." Or, you can view the poem as a screencap image here.

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 From the Salvador Dali Lounge.

From the Salvador Dali Lounge.

George also recommends:

"Little Infinite Poem." This one is available at Melange, a site "supporting global, social & ecological justice, cultural expression and the technological revolution."  The author of Melange writes that "Little Infinite Poem" carries "a signature typical for most of [García Lorca's] work: ‘Duende’. ... a force that is irrational and intuitive; spiritually connected to the earth and pantheistic; and – quintessentially Spanish – aware of death." Read the poem here, and more about the nature of duende below.

Rundown Church (Ballad of the World War)
From the Following Pulitzer site of James Rosenzweig.  

"City That Does Not Sleep" at Poets.org.

"Landscape of a Pissing Multitude" at Famous Poets and Poems.com

Lastly, follow the quote from this week's intro into the full text of García Lorca's essay, "Theory and Play of the Duende," as translated by A. S. Kline. 

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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 cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.


LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: A Letter to Dan Gerber from George Kalamaras

Snow on the Backs of Animals. Letter to Dan from Centennial

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by George Kalamaras

Because there is snow on the animal’s back, Dan.  Snow on the backs of our tongues. Because our dogs are the backs of tongues.  Our tongues.  And the way we walk and pant and sleep.  Whether a retriever at your side or a hound dog at mine, the Chinese poets of the T’ang held cats in their lap.  Snow in the Chungnan Mountains is rain in the Sierra Nevadas.  When it rains, it rains bats and frogs.  The furry, reptilian parts of the heart.  Here, take this tongue, I’d say, and you’d sense it all the way in California.

I’m in Centennial, an hour from Laramie, overlooking the Medicine Bows.  We words, we timber, we wood.  We shutter and mutter and splint.  Wood-splints, I say, in the thick musky dusk.  Remove the pituitary gland of a freshly fallen elk, and you can scent the many decades west.  The road from Laramie to Centennial winds wide.  And all the views of everything below is all we have lost.  The heights.  The dreads.  Well-buckets raised from the cracked rib of an owl, when the night is long and starlit and minced.

I’m thinking of that fawn you wrote about, Dan, and the way the coyotes yoated midnight down the draw.  I walked down near the Elkhorn last night, where bears den in the mist, and the wild dog howls sounded my heart.

Let’s say the Japanese tea ceremony included a mixture of monk hair, possum bone, and Kyoto mist.  I’m serving you a cup of yourself, just in writing these words.  There are at least two ways to pronounce Sumac, one of which sounds like the leather around our feet.  What has died has died?  What has died, Dan, to clothe and keep us warm?  Unto what do we giveth our tongue when we say the right name through just the right slime?  Snow.  Snow on the backs of mammals.  Their great lumbering is a Bactrian load all the way from the Gobi.  There are jewels in my hand, jewels in my mouth.  Spices and fires and teas.  And east as west.  Direction, a state of mind.  If you misspell mouth, part of the word burns off into moths against the lamp.  The way we walk and singe and sleep.  Two retrievers—one on your left, one on your right.  The hound dog in my heart howling all the way from Wyoming about the wrong way west.  That fawn, Dan, and the way parts of us break off.   Pray and die and flee.  Here in Centennial, which—with rain at these heights—could be the Chungnan Mountains and the Chinese part of my heart.  There, on the backs of our tongues, where we tender the names of our dogs, most loved, somehow holding what rain freezes into.  Snow from the backs of all we might possibly be.

(for Dan Gerber)


 George Kalamaras and Dan Gerber. Photo by Jim Whitcraft

George Kalamaras and Dan Gerber. Photo by Jim Whitcraft

About George Kalamaras:

George Kalamaras is 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.

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About Dan Gerber:

Two of Gerber's poems George recommends are "Often I Imagine the Earth" at The Poetry Foundation, and his gorgeous elegy for Jim Harrison (1937-2016), "To Jim from the River," featured on Poetry Daily. His most recent book of poetry, Particles: New and Selected Poems, was published in 2017 by Copper Canyon Press.

Visit The Los Angeles Review of Books for a deep-diving visit with Dan in "Grasped by What We Cannot Grasp: The Elemental Poems of Dan Gerber" by Dean Kuipers.

"Besides being the author of 10 volumes of poetry — including the new Particles: New and Selected Poems which came out in September 2017 — three novels, a book of short stories, and two books of nonfiction, Gerber was also an English teacher and a top race-car driver in the 1960s."

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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 cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.

“Snow on the Backs of Animals” appeared originally in Calibanonline, Issue 24, July 2016, pages 58-59. It is second in CutBank's series of letter-poems from George Kalamaras to poets he's known personally, or knows (perhaps as intimately) through their work. (Read George's previous letter to John Haines here.) Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us.