Clouds don’t come at him any more
seething inside with green fire, nor
does the skin of lovers often proclaim,
like a trumpet, fearful surprises.
And where are the river-roads that once he attended,
the quarrels that whistled around him like bullets,
the steaming tracks that swept him along come midnight
with the gift of a single mountain lantern?
Wherefrom are the words that used to hurt,
that hurt now twice as often,–
and where are the friends he loved enough to wish
he might give them a bit of his time on earth.
Also, old man, why can’t left encounter right
any more for a battle?
And where are the rattling snare drums of daylight?
Why do there not canter up these days
poems that stamp the hoof,
and offer the bridle, so he must clamber top-side
the-saddle, and set himself to thunder off,
not caring to guess where the gallop goes,
or by what fork of the road!
or by what fork of the road !
© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore
“Old Poet” read by Alabama poet Irene Latham:
Out trolling the banks–the swirling rivers–the thump of the creel–
the fishermen seek a logical colloquy of wildlife and loaves
with shining words.
Then once in a while,
they watch their talismans over brutishness and power
go down, blighted by the savagery of fact.
As the civil world presses agreeably on
in its ramping, murderous way,
they come to be swept off like us all,
and forced to mouth the blameless blame.
Swearing to lies, they’ll be wasted in the squalor,
but, after the cycles have inched about
they’ll cautiously hoist themselves
from out of the caves of hiding,
and once more casting to catch the shining words,
hang them like silver mornings in the sun.
© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In a Drugstore
For my father, being a Writer and Poet meant a lifetime struggle with perfectionism.
How do I know this?
Both of these poems were written sometime before 1997, because both of them were in a manuscript titled Carnal Blessings that became a finalist for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize in 1997. A year later my father changed the title to Overheard In A Drugstore, and continued his lifelong process of tweaking both the poems and the table of contents. He frequently spent years perfecting poems until he was happy with them. Unpublished ones he’d put in a drawer to review a few weeks, months, or even decades later. I personally know of two poems that were published in early books of his, that he altered before they were re-published in later books. AND, after he died, when I went through his personal copies of his own poetry books, I found small edits he’d made in pencil to a few of his already published and well known poems. In some cases I agreed, and in others I didn’t, but that’ll just be our little secret.
“OLD POET”, as I interpret it, reflects on growing older and, judging by the last two lines, is a literal nod to Robert Frost. Frost died at age 88 in 1963, which means that he was in his late ’60’s when my 18-year-old father first knew him at Harvard, and in his ’70’s in 1946 and ’48, when my father worked with him as part of the staff at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. By 1997, when “Old Poet” was submitted to the TS Eliot Prize as part of the Carnal Blessings manuscript, my father was age 77. I think he was feeling a combination of sentiment, admiration, loss, empathy, and camaraderie when he wrote this poem.
(If you want to learn more about Robert Frost and my father, read the poem, “Mr. Frost” from a previous post).
“Fishermen”, was initially surprising to me, because the ONLY time I’ve ever seen evidence that my father even so much as touched a fishing rod is a photo from the early 1950’s. But then when you really read the poem, it becomes clear that it’s not really about fishing for aquatic creatures at all. To a partial extent I think it’s about fishing for the right word, enduring as a writer through the ups and downs of popularity, and surviving harsh poetry critics from a “boys club” you aren’t part of. However, when you pay attention to some of his allusions, and think about his background, suddenly the word “fishing” suggests a potentially deeper meaning. Assigned to Europe as a WW2 Airforce Communications Officer, my father was undoubtedly hyper aware of Hitler’s propaganda machine and the efforts of the European Resistance to counter it. He then became a reporter in Birmingham, Alabama, during the dawn of Civil Rights demonstrations where his newspaper boldly published descriptions of brutal police attacks on peaceful protesters. At the same time, Senator McCarthy was busy adding writers to his increasingly long black list of accused “Communists”. It wasn’t until the respected TV journalist Edward R. Morrow verbally attacked him that the public came out of their 4-year trance and “McCarthyism” ended. Ten years later my father was no longer a reporter, but avidly followed the “Watergate” investigative reporting that led to President Nixon’s resignation.
I think this poem is my father’s personal tribute to the writers who keep fishing for the right words, fishing for success on their own terms, and fishing for the truth , no matter how hard it might be.
Andrew Glaze at Panama City Beach, Florida, early 1950’s. The only time I have ever seen my father hold a fishing rod of any kind, and while wearing loafers!