Frances Richey on ‘Afterimage’:
Patricia Clark on ‘Grand Marais Estuary, in Fog (after the painting by Stanley Krohmer)’:It sat in front of me when I was writing, a small 4 x 4 inch painting, goatskin on a panel, by Stanley Krohmer (my husband). The place itself captured: majestic quiet beauty of shallow water over sand, birds on the wing and rare endangered plovers nesting nearby — warning signs posted. It has happened to me again & again: an image that starts to speak, as though it must urgently tell its tale. And this one, the story of someone we knew, his name synonymous with Grand Marais. In that sense, the poem is a brief elegy. It’s subject? The writer Jim Harrison who came to our campus for a while, in a few autumn semester visits, to talk with students. Apocryphal or not, the story of his death says he was in his studio and was found with pen in hand. I hope it’s true.
William Olsen On ‘False Darkness’:
In the summer of 2017 my wife and I had stayed in the house of Sawnie Morris and Brian Shields, an adobe house that Sawnie had built herself. Far enough outside of Taos to see the skyscapes. A walk around dusk became habit for us. I say us. We have been together for 45 years, have done a lot of looking, so when I see something now I almost assume Nancy is seeing it with me. The feel of looking together in the instant and over the years. In the case of this poem, a perception took over, how daylight vanished from under and around us, to become the light on hills, to become the light on mountains, to become the light on clouds. An ascending progress amidst the descent of night. The longer I stayed with the poem, the more this incongruity startled me. The usual verifiable facts, whose house which mountains what state, sheered off. A mock argument between two kids one night struck me as some absence in my life, of childhood, of having children? Midway into the poem the title “False Darkness, a phrase from a devotional song by the largely neglected Judee Sill, lent itself to my uncertainties. It became something like a steering wheel for the rest of the writing of the poem.
Suzanne Lummis on ‘It was 3 A.M, Winter, Nine Miles from Truckee’:
You know that thing where a memory or event, or maybe just some matter of concern, weighs on you, follows you, until you know something must be done about it? A poem must get itself written? And nobody around better than you to facilitate this? But how to approach this material, this object of mental, moral or material obsession, in a fresh, unexpected way, without just rehashing what we already know, in the language we’ve come to expect—that’s the problem.
I had that thing. I wanted to write a poem on the most enveloping crisis facing our world (that is, aside from the new enveloping crisis facing us right now). I wanted to write about the environment, climate change, but without boring the hell out of myself. I mean you can’t just go, the seas are rising, the wells are drying, species are vanishing—W-a-a-h!
And then, as is so often the way of it, I found my approach to this area while writing about something else.
The Los Angeles poet Henry Morro has commenced a decline from which he will not recover. His wife Amy asked me and his close friend, poet Carine Topal, to edit and assemble a manuscript of his poems for publication. (I’d suggested we call it The Zoot Suit Files, and the name stuck.) Carine and I decided that as a tribute to Henry, and to let some part of his writing carry on in a new context, we’d each select a line or fragment of his writing and work these into new poems. My eye fell on “It was 3 A.M, Winter,” and I was back in the Claire Tappaan ski lodge, a kid again.
I began the piece thinking it would be about my earliest recollections of insomnia, but suddenly—or maybe slowly—it was about something else. That evasive poem got itself written.
Annette Barnes on ‘The Merchants of Venice’:
The poem tries to capture what a pleasure it was shopping for food in Venice’s Rialto Market.
Ron Smith on ‘Moveable’:
Paris, Going & Coming
When I was a young man yearning to visit Paris, I could afford to go there only in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and, like everyone else I knew who had read it, I loved both the book and the Paris it offered. Many years passed before I could actually get to that breeding ground for so many edgy, delicious modernisms, including Hemingway’s brand. Hem’s Paris has been in my head, it seems, my whole life; but only four years ago did I finally manage to secure a Rum St. James in a Paris café.
Until around the turn of the millennium, I guess I was part of what Adam Gopnik has called “the Hemingway cult in twentieth-century America.” I loved early Hemingway, from the first version of In Our Time (voguishly in our time, of course) through The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. I also loved some of the later stories and was amazed by what seemed the transcendent transparency of The Old Man and the Sea. I have gone on loving them, though more and more critically.
As far as I can tell, Hemingway’s work went bad around 1940, the date of the sometimes hilariously pompous stinker For Whom the Bell Tolls. But especially after that, it is the Hemingway macho bluster and dishonesty that more and more grates.
Out of the Hemingway Paris circle have emerged decades of biographies, memoirs, published letters and journals. Sure, every one of us is seriously messed up, one way or another. But it became more and more obvious to me that Mr. Purity had some especially ugly tendencies toward cruelty and character assassination, especially directed toward those who deserved his gratitude—Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Sherwood Anderson, to name just four. When I was young, EH’s comments about the importance of “truth” deeply impressed me. When I was no longer young, his hypocrisy deeply disgusted me. For all his talk of “one true sentence,” Hem was one huge liar. And inexplicable grudge-holder. And epic back-stabber.
When, a year out, Stoney Stoneback asked me to read poems at an upcoming Hemingway conference in Paris, the first thing I did was reread the work, almost all of it, and as chronologically as whimsy would allow. Then I went back to A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s first posthumous book, a book inspired by the 1956 discovery of notebooks Hemingway had stored in the Ritz Hotel in 1928. I could now see how the charming tough-guy freshness of the 20s notebooks had been infected, not only by the Nobel-inflated ego, but also by the physical pain, PTSD, alcoholism, depression, and just plain bad faith of Hemingway’s final years. Paris has changed, of course, and the book has been edited by at least two partisan hands, but its combination of precise Parisian details, truly poignant nostalgia, and subtly wicked bitterness—I felt exploited, complicit, and charmed, all at once.
I have a head full of Hemingway and when I let it pour through my personal memories of the City of Light, “Moveable” was the dark result. Making merry with the early-late language of Mr. Impeccably Restrained was all I was up to for a couple of months. (I also wrote a parody of “Big Two-Hearted River,” a work I adore.) Rereading “Moveable” now I see it as a miasma of ill feelings hosting a dimly glimpsed fiesta of homage and horseplay.
On 23 July 2018, I read, without intro, an earlier version of “Moveable” to an attentive assembly of Hemingway scholars in the Salon Gustave Eiffel on The Eiffel Tower.