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.

IMG_20161023_0048
Press release photo, used on the back of the jacket cover of Damned Ugly Children. Photo by Susan McCartney. Copyright 1966, by Simon & Schuster.

 

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