Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nobel Prize? That's So Chill

The university’s immediate response to the happy news regarding their physics department faculty member was displayed on every one of the traffic message boards saturating the campus roadways, thick as bees:


Congrats.  That’s how we talk to our Nobel Prize winners. I’m surprised the third line wasn’t CONGRATS DUDE. 

This verbal slovenliness brings me to related subjects, ubiquitous, lately, in literary journals, namely: the rotting of culture; the death of civilization; the demise of books, the profaning of reading, and how the internet and social media have caused the juvenilization, if not the complete degradation of human thought, and the concomitant threat to the new population of dimwits posed by armies of robots with artificial intelligence.  Of course, an addled citizenry is nothing new; the Lord God, back in the day, expressed to the prophet Jonah His sympathy toward the pitiful inhabitants of the great, beautiful city of Ninevah, people who “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand.” 

But there is a new hotness among public intellectuals to describe ever more ardently the stomping classical culture has been getting, a swollen circus parade of articles having appeared recently, in serious but not strictly academic journals, by writers sore displeased (or so they lead us to believe) about the dumbing down of public discourse, hissing and wagging their heads over the technology-enforced obsolescence of the Gutenberg-style reading, the decreasing aptitude for critical thinking, the increasing inability to focus for longer than a few minutes, or 140 words, on any one subject, be it physics or Miley Cyrus, and the dangers these trends are presenting to democracy, or human being as we know it.  (Sometimes the complainers seem suspect, vested interests seeking to maintain their snotty elitist New York City-centric publishing privilege; well, my work is available on Amazon, same as Philip Roth’s.) Thus and regardless, there’s little doubt:  the end is near.  And it could be as soon as next week.

That’s a shame about physical books going the way of dinosaurs.  Somebody will have to be the last person on Earth to know what the poet Elizabeth Bishop was talking about:

“Open the book. (The gilt rubs off the edges
of the pages and pollinates the fingertips.)”

Of course poetry was a hard sell even in civilization’s (and publishing’s) halcyon days.  But, Elizabeth Bishop, she writes some nice lines; here are a few, randomly chosen from her collected poems:

“Four deer practiced leaping over your fences.”

“The bull-frogs are sounding,
slack strings plucked by heavy thumbs…”

“The beach hisses like fat…”

“The world is a mist…”

And on this one she was describing a large, old fish, a veteran, with hooks from past escapes ingrown into its mouth and with strands of broken fishing line still attached:

“Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.”

Back at the university, 24 hours later, the three lines on all the traffic message boards had returned to their previous verbiage:

11 PM TO 6 AM

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bill Shively, poet

Bill could write. He was a craftsman. He knew how to make things, and make things happen.  How do you know how to do these things? I asked him.  I get a book and follow the instructions, he said.

Bill could write and was prolific and promiscuous at it---he just wrote ‘em and sent ‘em out, wrote ‘em and sent ‘em out.  I’ve a collection of chapbooks and manuscripts, and a ton of letters, and pages and pages of (I think) unpublished poems, as well as poems that eventually found a print home somewhere.  He was disciplined as an artist, a writer who took the craft seriously, but somewhat undisciplined when it came to compilation.  A couple of times he requested his correspondents look for a certain poem he might have sent them last year or last week or something.  I chided him for that; his work was too good not to keep track of.  He kept it up.

Bill and I met at Red Sky Poetry Theater in Seattle in the mid 1980’s.  We collaborated on a few projects, and when the Bill Shively Band was formed, he extended a couple of invitations for me to “sit in” with them.  There was also a short-lived, 4-man collective that put out a couple of issues of a renegade literary magazine titled “Seattle:  No Ice.”  I had no business being in that company--- Bill, Joe Keppler, Ralph LaCharity, and me (a mere man among giants).  But it was thrilling.

We went our separate geographic ways, but over the past score of years Bill and I kept in contact, and visited on a handful of occasions, the best of the visits enhanced by the presence of his beautiful wife Anna.    

Over this past summer, while he was getting sicker and I was recovering from a different kind of physical issue, Bill and I managed to collaborate one last time with the upshot being the publication of his book s/he said.  Serendipitously, Michael Monhart, Bill’s close friend since the days of the Bill Shively Band, also helped with the book, and he brought it to our attention that here we were, working together again, after all these years.  

Good is an adjective easily attached to Bill Shively and his roles as friend, teacher, writer.  He was, to borrow a term from younger generations, authentic.  As of the night of September 28, 2014, our planet is down a good human being.