Two poems, two poets, two lives, enfolded. George Kalamaras speaks to James Wright in LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE.

On James Wright, from the Poetry Foundation:

“James Wright was frequently referred to as one of America's finest contemporary poets. He was admired by critics and fellow poets alike for his willingness and ability to experiment with language and style, as well as for his thematic concerns. In the Minnesota Review, Peter A. Stitt wrote that Wright's work both represents and parallels the development of the best modern American poets: ‘Reading the Collected Poems of James Wright from the point of view of style is like reading a history of the best contemporary American poetry. One discovers a development which could be said to parallel the development generally of our finest recent poets. . . . [This development shows] a movement generally away from rhetoric, regular meter and rhyme, towards plainer speech, looser rhythms and few rhymes.’”


Letter to James Wright (Or My “The Indianapolis Poem” Folded into Your “The Minneapolis Poem”)

by George Kalamaras
 

“I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.”
—James Wright
 

1.    Dear Jim:
I ask how many dead dogs last year
tilted the earth, as their breath eased out
into the frost-filmed leaves.
As if they were bleeding sideways
into the nails of Noah’s Ark, rusting slowly
the ocean salt of the Dead Sea, the inky
green plankton of the Sargasso. The Ohio River
running there, all the way from Evansville, torn
pages of Bibles floating belly-up
in the river, having been ripped to plug a wall.
Hound dogs who couldn’t follow the moon,
couldn’t tree a coon, lost
in ground fog. The hame bells of dead horses
still drawing Conestogas across Kentucky, somehow
sighing in the moon’s smoke.
And I wish every dead animal
good ground and sound luck.


2.    Dear Crippling Wind in Your Hammock-Strung Throat:
Indianapolis. Fort Wayne. Brownsburg. Crown Point.
Crawfordsville. Cedar Lake. In our town,
weather was weather
in the crippling wind
through the mangled cornhusks of autumn.
And the barns—torn apart by the brutal
maiming of November—were sinners
that took to their knees
to wait out the primitive sadness of the moon.


3.    Jim:
Indiana, the old Northwest Territory.
Just beyond lay immense forests of dark trees.
Wolf track. Pond scum. Sassafras scent.
The white bark of sycamores like ghosts
of wood buffalo in the switchgrass.
Indianapolis, where bands of Ishmaelites
from the Upland South settled the other side
of the White River. They were said to have wandering blood,
which caused them to gypsy
. And their wagon lanterns,
postured against the dark, Jim, threw a shadow
of a shadow, bobbing, there,
in the snow-cupped waves. The White River,
which a century later lost 4.6 million
fish to Guide Corp’s automotive parts
in Anderson. The White River, which absorbed 10,000 gallons
of HMP-2000 into the wandering water, wandering away
into the Wabash, wandering, open-mouthed, startled
with the sudden weightlessness of death dying
as it died.


4.    Dear One, Who Wrote with an Ocelot in His Mouth:
Someone said Etheridge Knight, before Korea,
before the shrapnel wound and drugs bit his wrist,
had been Lew Wallace in a previous life,
when Lew had already left for New Mexico.
That Ben-Hur sat so long in prayer at the feet of Christ
that he reincarnated as James Whitcomb Riley.
That ocelots and armadillos from Texas
roamed nighttimes north from Galveston, from Corpus Christi,
to become polecats and possums in Indiana.


5.    Dear You-Knew-the-Poor-from-Wheeling-on-the-Other-Side-of-the-River:
The strippers at Poor John’s in Fort Wayne, Jim,
eat a late night meatloaf at Liberty Diner,
north on Old U.S. 30. The weight of the open road.
The weight of so much beauty
dancing here, then there. Of the curves
as they circuit town to town. The voluptuous
drift of a late-night radio voice in the car
with them between towns. Inserted, sideways, 
into their lives. Fort Wayne to Muncie. Muncie to Noblesville,
the outskirts of Indianapolis. The weight
of their breasts making solitary men
in the diner almost communal,
though their bra straps expand with the sag of tedious notes
of a favorite song to which they dance over and again
and have brought, here, to quiet, 
in the 3 a.m. coffee and smoke
of this all-night place where the all-night
plates are placed solemnly before them.                       


6.     Once Again, Jim:
Yesterday, yes, a stray hound wandered right through the front door
of Fort Wayne’s Three Rivers
Food Co-op. He could have been from Minneapolis
or Saint Paul, or even Martins Ferry,
Ohio. From within the wind whipping you
here to there. No tags. No home.
The tantalizing scent of the café. Cases of cheese.
As if being lonely was love enough to eat.
His bloodline likely coming all the way
from Arkansas. From Tennessee.
You have to tell some weathers
when to snow and when to sun themselves
in the hurricane heart of the mouth. The street is full
of such advice. The homeless know. I heard one
clerk at the Co-op say, recoiling
as if wind-slapped in the face, No dogs allowed
in the swampy dark of the heart
.  

    
7.    Dear Like-a Life-Folded-Within-a-Life:
I want to live in Indiana as if the land was not sick
of being sick. Sand hickory. Hawthorne. Black walnut. Elm.
I want the moon in my throat.
Slantwise. White pools of moon-leaves
shimmering like coins I might grant the poor,
if the poor, by God, grant me my mouth.
Badger. Bobcat. Possum. Skunk.
All the animal dead that live again
in this body. In yours. In the vast
in-between. These ribs. This salt of sound.
How what we lose loves us most.
How a bawl-mouthed howl at the base of a tree might crawl
the riverous veins of leaves. The way an excited pack of hounds,
leaping and trembling, their long toenails scarring
the bark against which they lunge, clamor
for the elusive coon to come down,
to finally give up, to give its shivering self up,
—as all frightened things eventually must—
to all the quivering below that caused it to tree.
 

(for James Wright)


This is a segment from James Wright's Ohio, a 30 minute film by Tom Koba and Larry Smith featuring two of James Wright's poems with visual story images: "A Flower Passage" and "Beautiful Ohio." Also included are statements from Wright and William Matthews.
 

*

Words becoming "Living by the Red River."
Image from The Paris Review.


From The Paris Review's The Art of Poetry No. 19 in the summer of 1975. James Wright interviewed by Peter A. Stitt

“I’m afraid I have to admit that I cannot escape it, and to that extent I regard it as a kind of curse. I’ve thought that many a time. Why the hell couldn’t I have been a carpenter or a handyman?”

 

 

 

*

George's seven all-time favorite James Wright poems:

From Poemhunter.com:

(Poemhunter hosts a marvelous collection of Wright's work, with links to 40 poems. Also, PoetryExplorer.com provides a wide-ranging list of links to over 90 of Wright's poems!)

From Poets.org:

James Wright reads his work, with commentary. (57 minutes)


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 other letters to:

·         John Haines

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018, and also in 2014)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Gerrit Lansing

·         Robert Bly

·         Judith Emlyn Johnson

·         Ray Gonzalez

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: George Kalamaras says “Hey” to poet Ray Gonzalez

FROM POETRY MAGAZINE:

The Unsung Passion of Ray Gonzalez
by Roy G. Guzmàn

“Through Gonzalez’s poetry I’ve discovered the various syntaxes that run through my own linguistic DNA. Through him I’ve discovered how to deploy my metaphors and when to reveal my silences (“Beware the silence stronger than the voice,” he writes in “Beware the Silence,” included in Human Crying Daisies (2003)). Like his personality—measured, as if ticking like a clock, and with an appetite for tactful wit—Gonzalez’s poem-tellers can be shy but, when allowed to speak, can verbalize truths with the swiftness of a lizard. In “What Lesson?” for instance, the speaker asks, “What were the questions our mothers asked? Who did they make love to before our fathers arrived with newspapers and torn wills and deeds?”  … Gonzalez has the associative skill and patience of James Wright, and that gift of surprise you find in Russell Edson’s best work. He knows when to walk into a poem and when to walk away, leaving everything around haunted.”


Letter to Ray from Livermore

by George Kalamaras


Hey Ray. There are likely only two Surrealists left
who still read Hugo with any depth. Got a guess?
We know Breton and Desnos are dead,
though not in our poems. I was thinking today
how we love the West. The real West where railroads speak.
Everything now is air. Rush here, fast there.
Our molecules jiggle enough as it is
when we microwave our food. That baked potato
I ate last night still striving inside me to survive.
Of course you’ll visit in July and sleep
with your head to the north, aligning yourself
with the pines. You remember growing up
on the border with scorpions, the desert
and its sting. I recall Indiana fire ants
in the pump-house ivy. My boyhood
bites. John says they’re in my wrist.
And I believe him, standing some nights as I do
like the guy in Un Chien Andalou, staring
at my hand. I know. The wrist is not my hand,
but like those railroad tracks, our veins keep wending West.
Each year for me from Fort Wayne to Livermore.
I don’t know, sometimes, how we’ve survived this long
with a moth wing for a mouth. Something is beating me
back, and I’m sure it’s me. Part fly, part sky. You named it
Luna, and started a magazine. You got the night
just right. I’ve gone inside, my eye open to the spiritual
fly. Buzz here. Land there. Let the breath
and with it the jittery monkey-mind release.
It’s surprising we still have wives, the way our parents left
one another with pain. We’re not unique. Someone
is always throwing someone out, even with a word
or curve of earth. Someone is always throwing
a bone to the dog. In your case, cats. Remember
when Punk and Whitey loved to eat cantaloupe,
as far back as Arvada? God, we’ve known each other
a long time, even before them, in Denver,
knowing what makes our secret strain
exact. When Desnos sleep-talked, he threw a thread
of speak that wound from the cosmic now into the lives
of human dread. That’s why they were scared
and barred him from the group. So there are strains
of purpose and strains of pain. Which brings me
to how you and I do. Which brings me back
to those two rails running West
and all the courage of the plains. Of course, Hugo
could be a sap. And he knew it. But he stands naked,
letting the wind. Like blood into a cup,
it pours out his mouth. And the trees
speak. Not only booze, dark bars, and shame,
but the hope of how to survive in Red Lodge,
Missoula, or Butte. Desnos knew this
too, stumbling back from the camp, typhus
so tight in his spine, the Second World War
pouring out through his teeth. As did Breton, by the time
he got to his third wife. I love them most
for their blurring and slurring of word. The how and why
my life. As we love Hugo too, perhaps most
for his shame in how the West was won
and keeps losing itself in the lost. Because living here
is pine-dead hard. The how and why we cry.


(for Ray Gonzalez)

 

(“Letter to Ray from Livermore” appeared previously in The Drunken Boat, Fall 2012/Winter 2013, Vol. 11, Issues I and II.)


Poet Ray Gonzalez, Pima Auditorium - Memorial Union (Room 230) - ASU Tempe campus

George, Barney Beagle, and Ray from 1997 (Ray visiting George in Fort Wayne to hang out for an informal poetry and rock and roll weekend). Photo by Mary Ann Cain.

 

4 Poems at the Superstition [review]:

  • “A Bird Inside the Building” 
  • “Three Snow Storms” 
  • “Photo of Pablo Picasso with His Shirt Off ” 
  • “If by Chance, The Child Prodigy” 

*

Ray Gonzalez in Minneapolis, Con Tinta NaPoMo 2015 y más, coverage by Xánath Caraza of the La Pachanga Award Ceremony in 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.

* * *

Read George Kalamaras's other letters to:

·         John Haines

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018, and also in 2014)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Gerrit Lansing

·         Robert Bly

·         Judith Emlyn Johnson

·         James Wright

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.


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 other letters to:

·         John Haines

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018, and also in 2014)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Gerrit Lansing

·         Robert Bly

·         Ray Gonzalez

·         James Wright

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 other letters to:

·         John Haines

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018, and also in 2014)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Gerrit Lansing

·         Judith Emlyn Johnson

·         Ray Gonzalez

·         James Wright

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 other letters to:

·         John Haines

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018, also in 2014)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Robert Bly

·         Judith Emlyn Johnson

·         Ray Gonzalez

·         James Wright

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.