Saturday, December 18, 2021

And Kept on Drinking

Small farmer, big heart, miracle bike People’s Archive of Rural India

The times come round again;

The private life is small;

And individual men

Are counted not at all.

Now life is general,

And the bewildered Muse,

Thinking what she has done,

Confronts the daily news.


“Blunt emblem, you have won:

With carven stock unbroke,

With core of steel, with crash

Of mass, and fading smoke;

Your fire leaves little ash;

Your balance on the arm

Points whither you intend;

Your bolt is smooth with charm.

When other concepts end,

This concept, hard and pure,

Shapes every mind therefor.

The time is yours, be sure,

Old Hammerheel of War.


“I cannot write your praise

When young men go to die;

Nor yet regret the ways

That ended with this hour.

The hour has come. And I,

Who alter nothing, pray

That men, surviving you,

May learn to do and say

The difficult and true,

True shape of death and power.”

Keeping Away the Thoughts of It"

I’ve always assumed that all writing, even a grocery list, is at some level autobiographical. The “life-writing” may be latent, buried or disguised. It may be fictionalized, abstracted and unintentional, and what close reading reveals is trivial. But like DNA, words are uniquely eloquent. 

'And Kept on Drinking'

I knew a guy years ago in Cleveland who already thought of himself as a poet. He published in “underground” magazines that briefly flourished around the city in the sixties and seventies, usually mimeographed on odd-colored, pulpy paper and stapled along the edge. His poems buttonholed the reader. The word that comes to mind is exhortatory. Combine it with the fashionable politics of the era, the presence of obscenity and absence of upper-case letters and you get the picture.


Road, Forest, Fall, Path, Trail, Trees

For me he was more of a drinking companion than a poet. I was on the fringes of his retinue, and haven’t seen him in forty-five years. He never published anything beyond the throw-aways I described. I never took his poems seriously. What bothered me was that I feared I might turn into him. Now I hear he is dead at age seventy-two. There’s no obituary. What I know is scuttlebutt relayed by old acquaintances. People tell me he taught for a long time in an “alternative” school. He never married and had no children. By the end – I’m extrapolating here – poetry for him was a threadbare memory. They say he drank.


I remember him more vividly than I might have because I always associated him with a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson. “Miniver Cheevy” was published in the March 1907 issue of Scribnersand collected in 1910 in The Town Down the River. I suppose it’s Robinson’s best-known poem after “Richard Cory.” He had a gift for concise storytelling. We remember his people the way we remember Chekhov’s. Like Cheevy, the old poet in Cleveland “sighed for what was not, / And dreamed, and rested from his labors.” The final stanza is grim and prophetic:


“Miniver Cheevy, born too late,

   Scratched his head and kept on thinking;

Miniver coughed, and called it fate,

   And kept on drinking.”

'All Adages Are Relative'

“[S]uddenly the clouds would part, and his satiric joie de vivre would reassert itself, and he’d break me up laughing; he had an almost tender regard for human folly, his own included, that I found endlessly funny.” 

This might describe the second-funniest person I’ve known. Like many funny people, words for him were toys, malleable like Play-Doh. Sound and sense were up for grabs. Like me, he loved puns, clichés and platitudes. We once spent an hour riffing on a favorite expression of my mother’s: “I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts . . .” What we found funniest about such shopworn phrases was the solemnity and conviction with which some people used them.


The other side of my friend’s temperament was a periodic glacial silence. In retreat he became catatonic. This could go on for hours or days. I learned not to take it personally and knew he would return, usually with a joke or a sarcastic wisecrack. At the top, Ben Downing describes his friend, Tom Disch, the mordantly funny poet who committed suicide on July 4, 2008. I remembered it while reading Disch’s “Duelling Platitudes,” a sixteen-stanza collection of linked cliches in About the Size of It (2007). It concludes:


“A queen who tells us to eat cake

may be making

a big mistake,


“But the same advice from our corner baker

is par for the course,

not grounds for divorce.


“All adages are relative; each

will have its season.

So dare to eat your peach,


My friend, but keep it within reason.”

These sustainable lamps are made from coffee and orange peels! Yanko Design

Refined peptide takes aim at root cause of Parkinson’s disease New Atlas