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By Charles Bane, Jr.
Editor's Note: Read the first installment in this series of letters between poets Donald Hall and Charles Bane, Jr. here.
March 23, 2012
I live in Palm Beach, Florida, which surprises visitors: it is more Carribbean than American in mood and very small, only five miles long and never wider than half a mile. It’s a few minutes walk from the Intracoastal Waterway on its west edge, to the Atlantic. My health was restored in moving here many years ago, but nothing would give me greater pleasure than to meet you and revisit New England or welcome you as my guest.
I disagree with you; your work will be remembered. I place greater value on it than Frost’s work; yours are like the kinder season of my home.
I don’t bemoan that some poets may seem less read, like Shapiro and MacLeish ( who was a presence in Chicago ). The young who I interact with on Facebook read them and more: they quote Cummings and Neruda and set them atop their Facebook pages like medals. They wear Owen’s decorations.
My son and I will go synagogue tonight. A common thought of Jews is that succeeding generations are witnesses at Sinai. That’s the core of my belief in great poetry: the poet transports me to the origins of the soul.
March 28, 2012
“ I have been standing all my life in the
Direct path of a battery of signals
The most accurately transmitted most
Untranslatable language in the universe.”
Gentle sleep, Adrienne Rich *
*Adrienne Rich passed away on March 27, 2012
April 3, 2012
Thank you for suggesting I read Birkert’s extraordinary essay. I was exhilarated and saddened.I agree of course with his definition of soul and agree too that we have no Age before us without its’ name. Without spirit, the world is a cinder.
Forever now and all I might have
Been. I have never loved like
This. Never everything. Never from
Town to town, or where I lay asleep,
Or my hand straight and deer watching
As they take, hollowed before dark
And venturing to where day breaks.
His every sentence in the essay rang true. It saddened me that no one “tells” Birkerts any more of something new made and beautiful. Without the beautiful, poetry doesn’t exist, or the nature it transcends. But with the soul bared, nature becomes the poet’s own, and beloved:
What I whisper
Is not single celled
But a colony and trees
Bent in light leaving from
Their stems wash the depths
Of me. I am stunned when
Morning comes; dew beads
Every blade and we who
Loved the night shadows
Are painted green.
It’s in what is the credo of Birkert’s essay on poetry that I found the courage to write you my first letter. But I think he’s mistaken about the death of the expressive understanding between poet and reader. It’s true that academics are consumed by petty jealousy of commercial success, but not so the reader and they are not distracted by the bandwidth of the internet. They search out poetry as an “inward place of gain”. Birkert writes that “no one talks this way, thinks this way, about poetry, or anything”. I’m glad we share the knowledge he’s wrong.
April 8 , 2012
Letter to the Editor of the New York Times Book Review:
If you are David Orr:
• Become the Poetry Editor of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
• Ignore books published by small presses in the United States, the lifeblood of American poetry.
• Write a book about poetry, and leverage your position with the Times to acquire a publisher.
• Have the book reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
Charles Bane, Jr.
April 17, 2012
I’m enclosing an electronic copy of my next book, slated for publication in the Fall. If it is a chore for Ms. Currier to print, please let me know and I’ll forward you a hard copy. As we discussed, I’m not seeking your endorsement; I’m sending it only because I’m proud of the work, and think—rightly or wrongly—it marks progress.
At the beginning of the manuscript, I quote one of my letters to you. I would like your permission to do so. If you feel it is not appropriate, you have only to say so and it will be removed.
April 26, 2012
I read the Wasteland last night and again felt like Huck Finn at table with Aunt Polly. My clothes scratched and the moment I was free, I hurried to the waterway and Tennyson:
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts.
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I’ve no doubt some of my peers will wonder that this poem grips my heart; but if I lose the desire to recast our lives in heroic frame, I betray my knowledge that our work “takes its origin from emotion” *, which allow us to become heroic—and sustained. I betray the reader, who is like me, and knows common pain. Courage loosens pain’s hold. Some poems may be counter to our times, but how beautiful the slant on the line.
May 21, 2012
My first day of normalcy after serious illness. Thank you for your kind words about my work in your letter. Alas, I do not read Hebrew. I remember I.F. Stone in an interview when he was in his eighties, sharing his delight in learning Greek in retirement. I’d like to imitate him. There is a fine translation of The Five Books of Moses by Everett Fox—it was his life’s work- from the original Hebrew. The narrative is raw, tribal and fascinating. But it is not the King James, which I keep by my bed to remind myself that miracles of poetry take place.
I preserve our letters and their camaraderie. When I go to my desk to write, I say to myself that I have a friend who searches out the best and knows that everything that’s beautiful is of a common thing and borne in flocks.
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