Happy Halloween, everyone. I don't personally celebrate this holiday as I am allergic to salt. However, my black cat, Pushkin, is in protective custody, thank you for asking, everyone. & I mean everyone, you literary mutts out there included.
I thought this might be an appropriate time & place to post an interview I did with Ron Duluth, of Duluth, MN, back in the early 70s, which was also, as some of us are old enough to recall, a time of stress and crisis, especially for cats. It was published in the little magazine Little Duluth Magazine in 1975. I reprint here without permission from Ron, because he was always borrowing my toothbrush anyway, yecck. Happy Halloween to you too, Ron.
RD : Welcome to Duluth, Henry.
HG : Thanks, Ron. Are you speaking geographically or personally?
RD : Excuse me?
HG : I mean, do you mean by that, Welcome to (Ron) Duluth, ie. welcome into my personal presence, or, do you mean, Welcome to Duluth, my home town?
RD : Let's move on. Welcome, period, Henry. And I mean that.
HG : Thanks. You're welcome, too.
RD : OK. [takes sip of Doobie-Duluth, a local brew] I'd like to start by asking you about the portable chess board you carry around with you on reading tours. Can you tell us something about this? It's rather unusual. I wish I could print an image of it here, for future blog readers, but unfortunately, it's only 1975, and we'll both soon be in the nursing home if not Duluth Frozen People's Cemetery.
HG : Geez, Ron, you talk like it was Halloween, or something. Let's cut the gloom & doom. I don't really care if it's 1975 or 1597; in either case, neither of us knows Shakespeare on a first-name basis.
RD : That's true. Though I did pour him a brewskie last week over at Glug-Glugg's.
HG : He is some writer, huh? Have you had a close look at my chessboard? Check the pieces.
RD : How do you tell them apart? They all look like. . . kind of chunky pawns.
HG : It's a cheese board, Ron. Pawns, cheddar; rooks, swiss; knights, havarti; bishops, provolone, what else; queen, emmenthaler; king, blue cheese, it goes without saying.
RD : Do you actually know anything about cheese, Henry? There are more distinctive cheeses out there.
HG : I find that these standard grocery-store breeds have longer shelf-life, or board-life, if you will. Chess is a slow, stinkin' bloody war game.
RD : Don't I know it. It's how we get through the long winters here in northern Vermont.
HG : I thought we were in Duluth. Minnesota.
RD : Let's move on. I read a poem of yours about a year ago in Hoppers Bizarre, the one Lindy Spelling edits out of Grasshopper, ND. The last line has stuck with me over the 7 or 8 years since I read it:
"I spread my word around, mingled with wine and cheese."
Now on the surface, this is a very bland, slightly stupid sentence, if you don't mind my saying. But it refused to be ejected from the rooming house of my brain, for some reason, even though the rent came due long before I was even born. I thought of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, sending darting glances of animal heat across the Reading Room at Doddery House, Cambridge : poetry mingling with cocktail snacks, poetry moving out of its ivory tower into its ebony bower, into its limousine, into its chopper. What you seem to be saying, in this ultimate, rather than penultimate, line, is that poetry is not an arcane autonomous pursuit, like chess, for instance, but something far more complexly (new word, for me!) implicated (big word, for me!) in everyday emotional give-and-take of love-burnt lovebirds everywhere.
HG : Gotta hand it to you, Duluth; you must have labored over these questions all night long.
RD : Are you implying something about Cindy & me?
HG : Cindy spent the night at my hotel, Ron.
RD : Whaaa???
HG : - but not with me. There was a chess tournament in Duluth this week, didn't she tell you? Cindy is now a Grand Master; she's been invited to San Clemente to play Richard Nixon & that crazy guy Gary Kasper the Friendly Ghost next month. I'm surprised she didn't mention this to you.
RD : She knows how I feel about chess.
HG : Yeah, I know. She beat me too, yesterday. I'm just a Little Master now. This cheese board is just a novelty trick; I don't have the ruthless reptilian aggressive chromosome you really need for this game.
RD : Let's move on. Is poetry political, in your view?
HG : Does the Pope drive a Popomobile?
RD : What are your implying by that statement?
HG : Are you questioning my religious beliefs?
RD : I'm questioning everything. This is an interview. You're supposed to be answering.
HG : Is poetry political? Let me tell a little fable about that. Once, long ago & far away, in the kingdom of Shnoz, the masses were enamoured of Rex Regal & Regatta Special, their very own King & Queen. Rex & Regatta were not only good-looking, they were also well-mannered and well-spoken in any situation. Rex was, moreover, an excellent water-skiier. Regatta was raised in Humble Circumstances, a village not far from Capital, the capital of their nation (Capita); but she knew she could handle the jui-jitsu of social climbing; she put on her velveteen hiking boots and lo & behold became queen of her fair land. There was a poor ugly soft-muscled man in Capita, whose name was Lex Verbosity. He had become the Offical Man of Letters after winning the spelling bee in Capita Junior High three years in a row, an unprecedented achievement for someone with such poor handwriting. Well, Lex decided to become a poet. But in order to do so, he had to win the hand of the Princess of the Dark Wood, whose name was Circe Circuitous (really!). This was just the way they did things in that fair land known to this day as Capita. Well, to make a long story short, Ron, Lex succeeded. He lived in the forest with Circe for 35 years, only to emerge as Pig Laureate 35 years after that. Rex, King of Capita, was mightily alarmed; he sent his entire chessboard into the Dark Wood to capture Circe, but a short time later his army came running & squealing back home, curling their little piggly tails behind them.
RD : Henry, is this somehow related to your poetics?
HG : Did you note the word "chessboard" which appeared in my little fable just related?
RD : I did.
HG : Did you note what happened to the chessboard, Ron?
RD : I did.
HG : What conclusions can you draw from this story? Who is your favorite character, and why? Do you think that Lex did the right thing in marrying the Princess of the Dark Forest? How would you have become a poet differently?
RD : I don't know, to tell the truth.
HG : It's fairly simple. In this country, the United States, Dylan Thomas represents King Rex. Marianne Moore represents Queen Regatta. Sylvia Plath can play Circe. But who is Lex Verbosity? This depends upon how you view the impact of modern art and 20th-century history on poetic productive forces. For most American poets, poetry is a force for retirement, despite the impression, created quite premeditatively, of Wild Boy & Girl romanticism fostered by the likes of Rick Temblor, jing-a-ling poet-cowboy, & the like. But for an extremely astute & rigid avant-garde, the productive forces of poetry have been marshalled for the manufacture of a new and better world, represented by ee cummings, mm eekings, the Doodle Sisters of Paris, France, Ernie Hummingbird, TB Shott, Nozra Bash, and so on. These are the antennae of the rat, if you will, and the alert young minds of our generation - I mean those who dare to resist the cantankerous imposition of middling classy mores throughout the suburban hell which is our world - these young people are standing up together for freedom, and saying We Are The Pepsi Generation! in terms of verse.
RD : And you? Where do you stand, Henry Gould?
HG : I usually sit. But thanks for asking.