LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: George Kalamaras says “Hey” to poet Ray Gonzalez


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.

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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

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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.