Sunday, June 17, 2007

Farewell Newspaper Column

Thanks to the folks who commented on earlier posts, and
my-bad for being lost in samsara and out of the 'sphere
for a good while.

Turning over my poetry column in our local paper to the
new poet laureate of Santa Barbara, the gifted Perie Longo,
I finished my two year tour with a nod to one of my
life-long Faves, Richard Wilbur -- thought to post that


" Beauty joined to energy"
-- from "Museum Piece" by Richard Wilbur

At eighty-five, winner of two Pulitzer prizes among many
other recognitions, Richard Wilbur's still going strong in
his rustic retreat in Cummington, Massachusetts. The
last time he read here in town, we caught a beach walk
and he learned with awe and a guffaw that you can use
mayonnaise to treat a case of beach tar.

He's also a devoted gardener, as meticulous in that art
as he is with the use of words. I offered him on that
Santa Barbara visit four lines I wrote in celebration of
the way he approaches even the least exalted of activities
with a religious passion:


A lifetime deploying the high in the low,
with loam caulked hands amid vines he harvests
his okra, slicing the pods for frying
sidewise, so, that their star shapes show.

I've interviewed him again recently because he's about to
join the rare company of living authors who will have their
life's work enshrined in The Library of America.

I see you, along with Frost, as a great formal experimenter.
Does that characterization hit the mark for you?

"I'm honored by the comparison, and I hope it's true. Much
of the poetry which considers itself "experimental" is
characterized by leaving something out: meter, rhyme,
stanza, clarity, eloquence, breadth of reference,
memorability. It is really much more dangerous and
experimental to see if one can still play the whole
instrument as Frost did."

As a translator you're particularly known for your versions
of Moliere, but now I hear you're focused on Corneille?

"In New England it's good to have winter projects which are
the equivalent to quilt-making. Harcourt will bring out this
spring last winter's rendering of Corneille's The Theatre of
Illusion, and now I'm on the fifth act of his Le Menteur,
(The Teacher) which is exhilarating and morally precarious."

You've done children's verse and word-play books like
Opposites and Differences. How do these amusements
fit in with your other writing?

"However grown-up and straight-faced a poem may be, if
it's any good it has something in common with successful
children's verse: economy, surprise, aliveness of language,
and above all sure timing and control of tone. Actually, my
"opposites" poems are continuous with my more serious work
in their play with what I call the happy breakage of mental
patterns. They appeal to the child's secret knowledge that
the world is not tidy."

"Breaking of mental patterns" makes me think of one of my
favorites Wilbur poems, "Mind." Is it a central poem for you?

Yes, central to all my experience of poetry. (Reading):

Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.

Any words of advice for a young poet first starting out?

Let that aspiring poet not be a comfortable, unambitious
captive of the contemporary, but instead read English-
language poetry all the way back to Beowulf, memorize
some of what delights, and conceive of poetry as a
conversation between the poets of all times.

I couldn't imagine a more satisfying final word for a final
column than this from a master practitioner, as Poetry
Matters passes on to the talented hands of my follower
as Santa Barbara's Poet Laureate, Perie Longo.



At June 18, 2007 at 4:00 PM , Blogger Marty said...

Thanks, Barry. He was kind to me at Utah, and despite that, intimidating to a new grad student. Mayo? Really? Hope all is well.

At June 19, 2007 at 1:49 PM , Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

I hope you'll keep posting to your blog--I'll miss your columns...

At July 20, 2007 at 7:09 AM , Blogger Sheng Peng said...

Barry, congratulations on your two-year stint as poet laureate. I hope you've been well. Will you be staying in Santa Barbara? I hope to read more of your blogging!


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