Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Garden of Verses: The Year's First Business is Saying Goodbye


        The January 2018 issue of Verse-Virtual.com, the online poetry journal, is dedicated to poet Dick Allen, who passed away on Dec. 26.  
         "He was an active member of V-V since April 2015," editor Firestone Feinberg states. "A brilliant poet and an extraordinary person, Dick was good, kind, wise, compassionate— and so much more — a man full of love and care not only for his family and friends but for humanity itself."
          When I became a contributing editor for the online journal -- which essentially means somebody who contributes poems every month and tries to pay attention to what the other poets are writing -- I did not know who Dick Allen, Poet Laureate of the state of Connecticut from 2010 to 2015, was. That's a sign of how little I know about who's who in American poetry today. 
           Lots of other poets, including contributors to Verse-Virtual, were not only familiar with Dick Allen's work, but regarded him as an influence on their work, and in some cases as a mentor. 
           The comments I'm summarizing below come from the "tributes" page in the January issue.
           Poet Sydney Lea first encountered Dick's work in the 70s. He notes a guiding principle throughout his many volumes: 
 "the notion that the most important realities lie behind the scrim of preoccupations, anxieties, and aspirations that we all experience.  I will hold Dick– and on my better days, his example– close to my heart for as long as I tread the earth. R.I.P., good man."
           Poet Judy Kronenfield did not know him personally, but treasured his poems. 
"His poetry is steeped in and has totally absorbed literary tradition, but wears it lightly, and for his own purposes..."
            She quotes from his poem "Then":
When the “white horse” comes “galloping toward us,” there is “No road / of words we might take”...

          John Stanizzi was one of the poets who regarded Dick Allen as a role model and influence: 
"Dick's name was the name in poetry in Connecticut. Every young, aspiring poet around these parts was well aware of the presence of this great artist, and if he were reading somewhere, we (my gang of juvenile poets and me), would find a way to be there."

           Verse-Virtual contributing editor Barbara Crooker is an example of a poet that Dick Allen reached out to. She writes that she was "awed by his brilliance" and his attention to other writers.
"He was unfailing in his kindness to me, sending notes when I had a poem appear on The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, etc. Later, he asked if he could be my mentor, something that those of us outside the loop of MFA programs never get to have." 
                 I have to admit to knowing what Barbara means by being "outside the loop."
            You can find these and many other tributes at this link:
http://www.verse-virtual.com/tributes-to-dick-allen.html

             And here's the poem that Dick Allen sent to Verse-Virtual for publication in the current issue. In both the technical stuff, its deft handling of a rhyming structure, and meaning -- speaking to us in words we need to hear -- "Quagmire" typifies the value of his art. 
               In his note on the poem, Dick said that he wrote it
"considerably before the Trump administration, as a poem that would apply to almost any quagmire individuals or the nation might have entered.  But it may seem most appropriate now, in these deranged times."



Quagmire 


In it, we try to walk and talk
at the same time:
steps and words, steps and words
so undermined
 

nothing seems safe, no way seems out,
mud lies everywhere,
and the stink of the place, the shiftiness of it,
its murky air.

Do we crawl back?  Do we muck on,
slosh to one side?
Left seems right and right seems left.
Nothing’s verified.

Had we found clear rivers, we
could follow how they run;
had we talked the clouds apart
we could trail the sun.

But swamp and marsh and bog and fen
stretch all around.
The buzzard’s on the crooked branch
and there’s no high ground.

-This Shadowy Place: New Poems (St. Augustine’s Press)