Book Burial

Among the Chou,
who ruled in China after the Shang and before the Ch’in,
there were an Accomplished King and a Martial King:
who came out of the land of Wei
in the far west.
They gave new laws.
But most of all there was among them
a marvelous exaggerated respect
for books and bronzes.

Scholars could do anything they liked!
And they carried everywhere tablets and brushes
suspended at the waistband
so they could write about it–
write down everything–
gossip—dirty jokes–grocery prices!
They were so proud of being able to say things
with their fingers!  Oh, it was new!
And a serious consequential joy,
saying it ceremoniously,
saying it at all!  With holy black calligraphy!
What pleasures!
They loved writing so much
they were buried with their books.
One king had himself interred with twenty
cartloads of classics on bamboo slivers.
That was a funeral fit
to make being buried worth thinking about!
I had always thought of being shot out of a cannon
into the mountains,
But no!  This is the way I shall have it.

I’m resolved that if worst comes to worst
and I have to die,
well, I will insist on being buried with my books.
Now, first of all—in a rough cedar box
lined with broadsides, and funny poems.

Ugh!  Spare me your bassinet linings
of pink artificial silk.
Spend the money on a good workable lamp.
If I should wake up, let me spend
the time reading.
Let my head lie on Sake,
let Yeats and Whitman and Cervantes,
Mark Twain and Chaucer, my pockmarked
pencil-scratched edition—lie somewhere about my fingers.
Emily Dickinson I shall have cast in bronze cartouches
to lie on my tongue.  Put Hopkins on my chest.
He won’t be heavy, he floats like hydrogen.

Thesaurus, wretched book!
Put that over my eyes.
Shakespeare, I will be all new-dressed
in your blue Yale edition.

If there should be room, throw in Su Tung Po,
Tu Fu, Dante, Joyce, and of course Basho and Issa.
That way I shall never get restless.
I shall never be tempted to come back
and twine about the chimney pots
of the still alive, jealous and
trying to make them uncomfortable.
Oh, I’ll be quite happy, thank you,
for as long as you like.
What’s best, when someday
they dig me up for my bronzes
to put my bones on exhibition
in a brightly lighted museum case,
I shall have come home
to a theatrical way of thinking,
and lie among minds moving about
in a place of learning and repose.

© Andrew Glaze, from the book REALITY STREET , 1991

“Book Burial” is a poem from my father’s “Asian Period”. It was written around the same time as “The Trash Dragon of Shensi”, and “To A Little Han Horse”.

My father came from a family of book lovers and he never read fewer than three books at a time. His side table in the living room always housed a pile of the ones he was working his way through.  In addition, one was always reserved for bedtime reading and two others sat at various spots in our apartment. A fourth consisted of one he read to my stepmother in the evening (they gradually worked their way through the entire series of “Jeeves The Butler” books).  And while I still lived at home, a fifth involved “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, which he read to me over the course of my High School years.  He successfully instilled a love of books in both my brother and myself.

 His tastes varied from poetry to plays, murder mysteries, political topics, and everything in between. At one point he read The Double Helix, followed by my stepmom, followed by me. Then we all read In Cold  Blood by Truman Capote. One of the stand outs for me was Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. My stepmom read it after my father. I was next in line.  In 2007, I was pleased when I managed to continue the cycle. My daughter came home from school one day with instructions to “Read a detective novel” as homework. I promptly presented her with The Daughter of Time.  If you’ve never read it, it’s about a modern day bedridden detective who becomes obsessed with figuring out the truth about King Richard the Third.  I figured she’d get a murder mystery, and an English history lesson, all conveniently rolled into one story! 

Near the end of his life my father handed me a biography of John Adams by John Ferling saying, “This is one of the better written novels I’ve read recently”. Knowing that this was high praise indeed, I brought the book home with me.  He’d always been picky.

All of the books listed in “Book Burial” graced the bookshelves of our Manhattan apartment and later residences.  As a teenager, I remember reading some of them on lazy Sunday afternoons. We really did have the entire blue jacketed Yale series of Shakespeare. A complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories sat nearby.  One shelf held the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. My mother told me that, as a baby, I would pull books off of their lower shelves and draw in them with crayon. My partner in crime was a large white rabbit named “Bunny” who would follow and nibble the edges when I moved on to the next book. We still had those books too!

The year before he died I personally went through his book collection together with him and we narrowed it down considerably. Whitman and Dickinson remained on the shelves, along with Homer, Cervantes, and all of the other authors mentioned in the poem.

 Since his passing, I’ve discovered that he was often in the habit of making marks or comments in the margins of books whenever there was something he particularly liked,…or disliked. Sometimes he would argue with the content, or the author. Humorously, this was even true for spare copies of his own poetry books. Ever the editor, he would cross out entire lines to make his already “finished” poems even tighter.

 In the end, since he’d long before made up his mind that he was donating his body to medical research when he died, an Asian style burial along with his books was not in the cards.  In theory, we could have set up a sacrificial pyre, burnt his favorites to a crisp and mixed the remnants with his ashes, but he probably would have looked at that as a huge waste of perfectly good books. We decided that, given a choice, he’d have said, “Good gracious, no, please donate them somewhere!”  And so that’s exactly what we did.
—E. Glaze

1992 Miami
Andrew Glaze in Miami, 1991. The table beside his favorite chair is covered with a typical pile of books.  Photo property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

Trees

In memory of Adele de la Barre Robinson

It was a strange wood in which she decided
to consider herself lost.
It was filled with sun at cool angles,
Sylvanum densiflora, bracken,
live trees with lulling voices.
Trunks of bodies starting from the earth like plants.
Screams without throats,
Lianas tangled in unnamable wildness—
a world which would not accept order.

Existence snuffled with warty nozzle about this stranger
unacquainted with mere fact,
but who did not evade its vilest bubblings and quakings.
She would not draw back from the black crevasses,
which allowed her to name it a name,
imagine it to a shape it had not become
except as a neighbor to fear.
She recollected a prophet who spoke from a tree.

At first doubtfully, then gratefully, at last
brimming with courage, became what
was determined to take her,
and turning it inside out,
grew herself into death and gave it her soul.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

Adele Robinson, as my father referred to her, was a highly unusual female. In 1960’s Birmingham, Alabama, she began publishing a series of small press literary magazines, using her degree in Design and interest in writing and editing. The goal was to cultivate the careers of poets and writers that she believed in, and my father was fortunate enough to become a favorite in her start-up.

In 1963 her pioneer effort, a booklet titled The TOKEN, landed on my lap when my father tossed it from the doorway as he muttered, “I have poems in it” and headed off to eat lunch. It had just arrived in the mail. This was actually a pivotal moment in our relationship. Before then, I’d never realized that my father wrote poems that people actually published much less read any of them. Even more significant, this publication contained a poem about ME. I immediately became a lifelong fan at the age of twelve. (In 1965 “To Betsy” became a poem in my father’s first book, Damned Ugly Children.)

According to my research, Adele Sophie De La Barre was a descent of a French founding family of New Orleans which still lays claim to an ancestral mansion in that city. She herself was born in Pass Christian, Mississippi in 1905. In 1928 she graduated from Tulane University with a degree in Design and was an editor for the girl’s college magazine. During this same period, her future husband True W. Robinson (the W. was for William), was studying Science at CalTech, where he graduated in 1929. He was from San Diego.

How they met is unclear, but they married on July 4th weekend in 1931. The wedding was in Biloxi, Mississippi, so I think it’s safe to assume the day was fairly humid. By 1939, Adele was teaching Art at Wellesley College as Adele de la Barre Robinson, and in 1941, armed with a new MS degree, she became an Assistant Professor of Art.  Meanwhile, over at Harvard, True Robinson was studying for a Doctorate in Pathology. Then, from around 1942 until at least 1947, he was an Associate of Zoology at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  Somewhere in this time period he also managed to add Physiologist to his title.  Eventually the couple settled in Birmingham, Alabama, possibly because of his job, and possibly because of its closer proximity to her hometown in Mississippi. True worked with medical schools in Birmingham. But his main claim to fame is that in 1961 he and Southern Bell Labs announced a partnership that allowed heart electrocardiograms to be transmitted live via telephone to an oscillograph machine at a distant location. In other words, he became AN INVENTOR.

At this point, you might wonder how on earth an Art Design major, debate team, Drama Club member ended up marrying a microbiology and technical geek, but get this:  — in 1923, as eighteen year old teenagers still living at home with their parents, they were BOTH licensed Amateur HAM radio operators!

While True was busy studying and inventing, Adele kept busy creatively. In 1949 she published a booklet of selected verse titled, Summer’s Lease.  And when they moved to Alabama she became an Assistant Professor of Art at Howard College (now Samford University), while True also taught at the school. In 1959, students performed a play she wrote titled “Birthday in Venice”. More importantly, by 1955 she was friendly with the local female State Arts Chairman. This is most likely why, in 1963, the Birmingham Festival of the Arts sponsored a booklet called The TOKEN. It was Adele’s first recognized foray into publishing other writers. I should probably remind you now that The TOKEN is the booklet my father tossed onto my lap back at the beginning of this story.

Sometime before 1965, Adele and Charlotte Kelly Gafford, a poet and teacher from the English Dept. at UAB, began producing quarterly issues of a highly regarded magazine titled FOLIO. The content included poetry, short stores, undergraduate writings, and occasional graphic art. Many of the issues had poems by my father near the front. By 1968 Charlotte had accepted a teaching position in Vermont and moved there. On her own, Adele ran the magazine for a while and then Myra Ward Johnson joined her as co-editor. In 2015 I had a telephone conversation with Myra and she commented, “We always got excited when your father sent us poems!” Initially a quarterly magazine, FOLIO later settled into a semi-annual production schedule.

For his part, my father introduced FOLIO to his circle of friends and helped its reputation spread around the poetry world of Manhattan. An issue from 1968 contains a poem by his friend Elizabeth Lambert and graphic art from Umaña.  Elizabeth was married to Cesar Ortiz-Tinoco, who later became the subject of my father’s poem “What’s That You Say Cesar?”  Umaña was a 1964 collaborator with my father for a publication titled “LINES/POEMS”. His wife, Helen Mcgehee, was a lead dancer with the Martha Graham Company and friends with my stepmom.

Adele managed to keep FOLIO going for 10 volumes consisting of two or more issues per year. I think she would be pleased to know that copies of the magazine are now sold as a cherished commodity on auction sites. It was never a money making venture, and it seems likely that Adele and her husband financed it. As far as I can tell, the final issue of FOLIO was in 1974.

In 1978 Adele passed away at the age of 72, and the world became that much less creative. I recently asked my stepmom if she knew why Adele died at such a relatively young age. I must admit, I was surprised at the answer. “Alzheimer’s Disease; it was very sad”.
A vague feeling of loss settled over me initially, but this was gradually followed by a sense of peace that comes from solving a puzzle. I realized that I now had the key to a deeper understanding of the poem.

The poets Adele helped launch and nurture continued to grow in stature, expand their network, and even teach upcoming poets. That is a legacy worth having. I think she would have been incredibly proud to learn that my father eventually became the Poet Laureate of Alabama. After all, she had an early hand in putting him on that path. And clearly he realized it and was grateful.
—-E. Glaze

 

(Left) FOLIO cover. Each issue was the same design, but with different colors.
(Right) Adele Sophie de la Barre Robinson, at the age of 22. Senior year photo from the 1928 Tulane yearbook. Born May 27, 1905  — Died Jam. 30, 1978.

I Want To Turn To The South: 1941

Little known fact:
Andrew Glaze did translations from Russian and Spanish poets, even though he studied and spoke French. In April 1972, The Atlantic Monthly published his translation of Pablo Neruda’s poem “I Want to Turn to the South: 1941”. Later a mutual friend brought him a copy of the magazine’s page, on which Neruda had scribbled, “Andrew you did make a great poem of my poem. Thanking you, Pablo Neruda. In Algonquin, New York, 1972.”  I’m pretty positive that the mutual friend was the writer and anthologist Selden Rodman.  Selden featured both my father and Neruda in his 1997 book, Geniuses & Other Eccentrics:  photographing my friends.

Unfortunately, Neruda’s hand written note has faded a lot as he used a pen marker rather than an ink pen, and it hung in a frame on a wall for a long time, but it is still visible.  I once asked my father what led him to do translations and he said, “Because I felt that I could do a better job than the ones I was reading.” By which, I understood him to mean that he found the previously existing translations to be frustratingly awkward.
—-E. Glaze

Pablo Neruda scan w color adjustment copy
By Pablo Neruda, Translated by Andrew Glaze, April, 1972 The Atlantic Monthly
Later published in 1974 in Andrew Glaze’s book “A Masque Of Surgery”.
Translated version © 1974 by Andrew Glaze.

“From a sickbed in Veracruz, I remember a day
of the South in my country, a silver-plated day
like the quickest fish in the waters of heaven.
Lonchonche, Lonquimay, Carahue, whose heights
are barren, ringed around with silence and roots,
watchmen from the thrones of leather and timber.
The South is a great horse sunk like a stone
crowned with slow-moving trees and rocks,
as though lifting his green snout hanging with waterdrops.
The shade of his streaming tail is a great Archipelago
and in his intestine sprouts the miraculous coal.
Will you never more give me, darkness, never more, oh, hand,
never more foot, threshold, thigh, my struggle–
to startle the forest, the highway, the ear of wheat,
the mist, the cold, which like azure decides
which one of your ceaseless steps shall accomplish itself?
Sky summon up a day when I move star on star
trampling the light like fireworks, wasting my blood
till I come to the nest of the rains,
I ask to go
back to the river of the timber, the musky
Tolten, let me pass by the sawmills,
and enter the cantinas my feet soaked with water,
guide me past the light of the hazelnut’s electricity.
lay me out full length in the excrement of cattle
to die and revive gnawing at the wheat.
Ocean, bring me
a day of the South, a day gripped by your waves,
a day of wet trees, brought by a wind
of azure, out of the pole, to my ice-bound banner.”

Garcia’s Store

Garcia the storekeeper
below my window every day at the curb
sweeping before the sun gets up,
patiently gathers bottles,
the broken shiver-stars
of yesterday’s do-nothings,
who sleep as ever, across the hoods
of parked cars.
His wife, getting up late, with gummy eyes,
stands in the doorway trading the time of day
with customers, children, loafers and dogs.
Garcia’s indolent son, a sort of tire-man of waist fat,
will squat upon his black motorbike.
It’s his third this year. His Fu Manchu mustache
and unshaved dirty cheeks will squeeze out
from under the helmet,
shading a cloud of greasy black hair.

Every day, Garcia watches it all serenely,
his hollow cheeks are withered.
He sells coconut bars and chicken wings,
peers through his dirty glasses
across sales slip figures, with his
naked gums and two teeth.
Twice this year they’ve come in under the floor
next door from the basement,
and skipped away with a dozen cases of his beer.
He shrugs, sniffs, and nails up a network of two by fours.

At nine in the night, he stands by the adding machine
figuring the day, talking to Anselmo
the numbers runner, who leans over his cane,
rubbing his white fuzz of hair.
Garcia fumbles the numbers into the machine,
takes out the paper,
peers at it under his glasses,
licks his lips, says OK, shakes his head
with a sort of benediction.
Then he puts on his red woodman’s jacket,
slams the gate and sets the burglar alarm.
Never does it go off with a moonlight celebration
of a burglar. It rings by itself
many a night at 4 a.m.
Garcia will patiently rise up out of his bed
and float like a wraith around the corner to set it again.
When he leaves, he will hesitate,
then pat his door gently,
like quieting a restless, sleepless child.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

This poem is a description of life just outside our Manhattan apartment at 803 9th Avenue and 53rd Street. We arrived there in 1962, and left in the early 1990’s. Our former neighborhood still goes by the nickname of “Hell’s Kitchen”, but by the ‘70’s it contained a blend of theater performers, artists, and Puerto Rican and other ethnic groups as residents, restaurants with lofty goals, the sound stage for the TV soap opera “All My Children”, an off Broadway Theater called the Cubiculo, and a music studio where singer Carly Simon oten recorded. 

Our narrow 5 floor walk-up building had two apartments on each floor and ours was the entire right side of the 2nd level. Immediately below us was a store front that changed renters every few years. By contrast, Garcia’s store was a bodega below our neighbor’s apartment. The burglar alarm went off frequently, seemingly for the sheer joy of it. The store was tiny and looked like it had been there since the dawn of time. The merchandise consisted of Hispanic menu ingredients, cans, milk, bread, and fruit that was well on its way to becoming compost.

Cigarettes, cigars, and beer comprised the major part of Garcia’s sales. In the summer the door to the store stayed open, Garcia was always up for a chat, and a local group of drunks would assemble to socialize just outside his doorway. The sound of laughing voices would drift up to the windows of our living room where my father had a desk and a typewriter. When we approached to enter or exit the building, they’d apologetically move their crate seats out of our way.  Scrawny, and smiling, the most creative of the drunks was named Gene. His occasional requests for financial donations had humor. “Hey, Irish, can you spare a quarter? I’m starting to sober up!” was his method of addressing my teenage brother.

When we first moved into our apartment, the store below us housed a Puerto Rican barber named Benny. Whenever my parents sent my brother downstairs for a haircut, he’d leave looking like one of the Beatles, and come home looking like Charlie Brown in Peanuts.  We concluded Benny only knew one haircut.

Garcia and Benny were just two of the many Hispanic store owners in our area. Each store specialized in something, but they all looked vaguely similar. My brother Peter used to patronize a newspaper and magazine store a block away.  He recently wrote:  
“When I was a kid growing up in NYC, there were a lot of Puerto Rican immigrants in the neighborhood, along with a lot of little Hispanic newspaper/magazine stores and “bodegas.” I used to stop at one such store every Monday morning on the way to school, with my allowance in my hot little hand, to buy baseball cards. 

I started noticing a little book hanging up by the cash register titled, “The Dream Book.” I became fascinated by this book, which was $2.00, assuming it to be a manual of dream analysis, wherein I could find out what my dreams meant. I had heard that dreams had special meanings, and I thought for sure I would now be able to find out why I once dreamed that an alligator peed on me — but that’s another story.

I only received 60¢ a week allowance, so I had to save for more than three weeks (and sacrifice baseball cards!) to buy the book, but after carefully hoarding my money I finally had enough. I walked in that happy Monday morning, bought the book, and continued walking to the subway station. I eagerly opened the book and started reading as I rode the train, but imagine my dismay when this is what I saw on page after page:
….
Alligators — 27, 86, 32
Ancestors — 12, 22, 08
Antelope — 81, 96, 112

Bison — 03, 76, 104
Burglars — 16, 98, 25, 
Butter — 07, 107, 32

I had no clue what this was about, but I knew it had nothing to do with MY dreams.

I forget who I finally asked, possibly my father, but I eventually found out that this was a book for numbers runners, and people who played the illegal numbers game. These were the numbers you were supposed to bet on if you dreamed about those specific things.”

I still get a laugh when I imagine what those guys at the store must have thought when the little 10-year-old Anglo kid came in and bought a book on numbers betting.”
— Peter Glaze

By the 1990’s, the original Latino flavor of the neighborhood was fading.  As the bodegas closed they were replaced by Korean fruit markets and new higher priced stores.  More and more young professionals arrived in the area and rent prices rose accordingly. Our former building still stands firmly in place, but currently the stores below it have merged into one large and trendy Mexican restaurant.

—E. Glaze

Christmas

More than anything in the world
I say, let there be more Christmases!
I have this terrible hunger for festivals!
Let there be one each month,
even a little one,
with perhaps garlands
and fruitful craziness.

We have let something away from the world.
How did that happen?
Now we have got to make it all up again
out of rocks and paper with tasting and smelling.

Our very first illusion of meaning
came from a holy burning
passed to our hand
by a hand hot from the fire.
Now we miss that forge-dream of prophecy.

New joys have only to be invented.
They’ll be believed Hi!
The Christ Child,
is he, or is he not?
It’s of no importance.
Something is born,
when two or three come together
in his name or any other name.

© Andrew Glaze 1970
Tribune Magazine, UK, December 25th, page 9, 1970.

My father always enjoyed Christmas, although church was never a part of our family routine and he was a born skeptic his whole life.  We described ourselves as “agnostic”, and our outgoing Christmas cards were never religious in theme.  This is because he was born into a family of skeptical modern thinkers who were way ahead of their time and century, despite the fact that they lived in Tennessee and the Deep South.  He was spiritual, deeply moral, and highly ethical, without being religious.  Which is why, as I’ve gone through a large number of his poems over the past two years, I’ve been surprised to realize how many of his poems mention God, or Him. Clearly there was a part of his mentality that was curious and intrigued, and wondered about it all, despite his professed skepticism and rising disbelief.  There is a book “Earth That Sings” that is a compliation of my father’s poems, interviews, and essays up to 1985.  It is edited by William Doreski, a poet and writer who enjoyed my father’s lectures on poetry at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and later became a friend.  The second chapter, written by my father, is an entertaining tale of his childhood and youth titled, “Pagan-Protestant:  Notes on growing up in Alabama.”

The fact that the poem was published in a British magazine is not surprising as he worked for the British Tourism Authority and had poetry friends and fans in the UK.

As for the poem, I came across it on the internet in 2011. I’d never seen it before, and I’ve never seen copies of it elsewhere.  This is not surprising, because it was written in 1970 while I was living abroad, and over the years my father downsized his paperwork by archiving his past work at the libraries of Harvard and the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

When I found the poem online, it was part of an archived magazine and the entire page, including the poem, was miniscule.   Fortunately, the text of the poem was printed beside it, and punctuated, but the sentences were broken up into odd segments and parts. 

It took me awhile, but with the help of a magnifying glass, and the knowledge that my father would have found my situation extremely funny, I finally managed to piece the poem back together.  This is it in its original state.  Had he been around to comment, self-depreciating as ever, he’d have chuckled and said, “Thanks Sweetie, I’m highly flattered that you think it was worth the effort”.

—E. Glaze

IMG_20181210_0001
Photo from December of 1959, Property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.
L to R: Dorothy Elliott (Glaze) Shari, Peter Glaze, Elizabeth Glaze, Andrew Glaze, in our Greenwich Village apartment on Bleecker Street.
The photo was taken by a friend or family member, but I have no memory of who. My artistic work using spray snow is visible on the window. We look pensive, because we were listening to Peter trying to talk to us at that moment.

The Trash Dragon of Shensi

There was an ancient worm
on the hills of Shensi
which had six spines upon its back
that flowed red when it flew
at the Spring moon
ballooning and unballooning its awful wings
in the brick-hearted sun.

Now it has been caught.
They climbed the rootless cliffs
beyond Sian
(they were very brave and very determined)
and someone flung the silken ropes
while he was sleeping,
(dreaming of water and cloud spurts)
over the spiny angles of his rough heads
steaming like fire hydrants.

They damped him with fog,
and a promise of the disk like moon
for his own on Mondays.
They led him with milk.
And now he toils.
He is the eater of garbage for a whole prefecture.
He is known to every corner
as the Trash Dragon of Shensi.
And he is too full of old watermelon rinds
and millet straw to pay any attention
to his wings.

Only in sleep
vibrating his spiny reptilian pinions,
does a little steam nicker about his nozzle,
does he buzz a little, throb a little like a train.
He is thinking of red searchlights
in a fishlike moony sky,
and the mountains looking like
great flopped-over turtles below
weaving their legs and heads.

But he no longer believes in flight.
He has accepted his silken attachments.
He has even come—almost–
to believe in the ultimate dignity
of the transmutation
of fish bones and broken squash pods.

© Andrew Glaze, from The Trash Dragon of Shensi, 1978

If Picasso had a “Rose”, and a “Blue Period” for his paintings, then my father went through an “Asian Period” for his poems. In the ‘70’s and 80’s he periodically dabbled in writing Haiku poems and owned several books in that style of poetry. He took great pleasure from one or more large coffee table books on Asian Art around this time, and loved a newly acquired statuette of a little Hahn Horse so much that he eventually wrote a poem about it.  Years later, when it was thought that the statuette was lost during a move to Birmingham, he shed tears.

In a twist of fate, in 1978, when his book The Trash Dragon of Shensi was about to be published, they needed artwork for the cover design.  At the time, my brother was dating a Fine Arts Major from Brown University, named Kate Rivingston.  By happy coincidence, dragons were a favorite art subject for Kate, and so she became the cover artist for the book.  Ten years later, in 1989, she also became my sister-in-law.

Poet Madeline Kumin later said that this poem was a favorite of hers, and in 1978, the entire book received a rave review in The New York Times from writer Peter Schjeldahl.

 “Trash Dragon” is probably the closest my father ever came to writing a fable or fairy tale.

—E. Glaze

Trash dragon copy
Cover art © Kate Rivingston, 1978

Damned Ugly Children

My poems, you are damned ugly children.
I love every one of you anyway—
your scabby hook noses, wall eyes and crab feet.
I could swear I didn’t make you for their judgment,
and I’d only half lie.
I mean what do I care what they say?
And it’s true—somehow I never thought of us
as having business with their war of traffic.

We were being most ourselves,
I was making you for someone to talk to.
–Someone to stare with through that dirty window
out in the courtyard where the impossible squats
dressed in long rainbow-colored questions.
She was the only prophet I ever thought much of.

And because I made you against every possibility,
we shall never give up our old secrets, god knows.
Didn’t I get you out of the iron claws
of my own possessive guts
to give to myself for a birthday present?

© 1963, ’64, ’65, ’66, Andrew Glaze, from his book Damned Ugly Children.

Damned Ugly Children was my father’s first major book.  Poetry Anthologist Oscar Williams was the original force behind the decision for Simon & Schuster to print it in their Trident Press division. They did so with very little expectation of selling many copies of the book. Then, to their shock, The New York Times gave it a rave review, the American Library Association gave it a Notable Book Award for 1966 and libraries around the country and abroad ordered copies.  Insiders from the Pulitzer Prize organization told the publishers that the book made it to their final decision rounds for the 1966 Book of Verse prize. In the end, poet Richard Eberhart won that year. Ironically, he was the same person who wrote the rave review of Damned Ugly Children for The New York Times a few months earlier.

Suddenly the world went crazy and my father was in demand for interviews everywhere. Reporters from around the country were contacting him, and the first tongue in cheek question they all asked was, “Are your children really ugly?” In theory the reporters all knew that the title poem was actually referring to my father’s poems, but that depended on whether they’d read the title poem or not. When he couldn’t stand it any longer my father came home one day and asked me to find wallet photos of my brother and myself.  His response from that point on was to whip out the photos and allow interviewers to decide for themselves.

One day my father was contacted by another “Andrew Glaze” visiting New York City from out of state. They had different middle initials, but his namesake wanted a signed copy of the book to put on his coffee table as a conversation piece when visitors came.

The cover of Damned Ugly Children was by famed commercial and graphic artist John Alcorn. His career was at a high point during the ’60’s through 80’s and among other things he designed posters for Fredrico Felini movies.  The design he create for my father’s book was inspired by a poem titled, “Cats” on page 34. 

However, by far the most interesting link between my father and his book “Damned Ugly Children” was that of Fant Thornley, the Director of the Birmingham Public Library system between 1953 and 1970. I have no idea how they originally met, possibly through family, possibly through my father’s former job as a reporter, possibly because Fant was also a writer.

In 1964, Fant arranged a special exhibit when my father did a joint venture of poetry and art titled “Poems / Lines” with Colombian artist Umaña. The oversize artisan hand printed pages were displayed in a large glass display case just inside the entrance to the library.  When Damned Ugly Children was published in 1966, and the American Library Association loved it, it was a match made in heaven. Fant created another exhibit to showcase the new book at his main library building in downtown Birmingham.

Sometime in 1966 Fant Thornley visited us at our 9th Avenue apartment. He was on a business trip to Manhattan and I think he came to dinner. In any case, I remember meeting him at some length.  He died a few years later in 1970, at home, of a heart attack.

So imagine my astonishment in 2011, when I typed “Fant Thornley” into Google one day on a whim, and learned that Fant now haunts the Birmingham library Linn Henley Building where he worked for twenty years.

Reports have him using the elevator late at night. Several random people have reported seeing an apparition of him, and multiple people swear they have smelled his signature Chesterfield cigarette smoke in parts of the building when no one else was around. Fant has become a legend in Birmingham history, and the man who once indexed books is now the subject of books himself.

I happened to visit the Linn Henley building a few years ago. Originally the main library building, it is now where the library archives are stored. I was amused to see a very large portrait of Fant Thornley placed in a prominent location. I can’t remember why, but I immediately had the impression that everyone is quite fond of his memory and whispered “Hello Fant” as I walked past at one point. If my own reaction is anything to go by, it would probably explain why his ghost is perfectly happy to stick around.

 In 2015, my father was still alive, he was the Poet Laureate of Alabama, his latest book was recently out, and he’d just been inducted into the inaugural class of the Alabama Writer’s Hall of Fame. That autumn, the Birmingham Public Library organized an exhibit titled, “Days of Glaze”. It showed highlights, photos, and Birmingham links in my father’s career as a writer and poet. The exhibit was in a new building, built after Fant’s days as Director, but the glass display cases were probably the same ones he’d used. Some of the items in the exhibit had no replacements, and yet I somehow felt confident that, from his world or ours, once again Fant would approvingly keep an eye on it all for us.

—-E. Glaze

Damned Ugly children
Damned Ugly Children‘s cover design by famed commercial and graphic designer John Alcorn. Copyright Simon & Schuster publishers 1966.

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Press release photo, used on the back of the jacket cover of Damned Ugly Children. Photo by Susan McCartney. Copyright 1966, by Simon & Schuster.