Minnesota kenosis

Late Tuesday night, I'm in a semi-underground motel (former locker room?) off positively 4th St, in Dinkytown, Minneapolis (U of M neighborhood. Giant Koons-esque plastic statue of toothy Gopher in mini-lobby.  Nice place otherwise).  Have been here for a few weeks, far from typical subterranean hutch in Providence.  Trying to pilot parents into retirement abode - big project, since my mom, Mary Ravlin Gould, has been a plenipotentially prolific painter/potter/prosaist/packrat (the genuine article of unrecognized Tower Hill local artist, with some special 40's-ish, Sheeleresque, Burchfieldoid, oils & watercolors, streetcorners, grain elevators, Hopkins, people...).  & my dad, John Gould the patent lawyer (Frisbee, anyone?  Pacemaker?) is just hanging on, it seems, these days...

Anyway, just rambling here.  Was able to spend a good part of last Saturday at some of the "Berryman at 100" conference just across the river. Wish I could have taken it all in, including the large Irish contingence of convergent evence.  The talks by Kamran Javadizadeh (JB & Hart Crane), Alex Runchman (JB & Delmore Schwartz), Philip Coleman (on Berryman's influence on JM Coetzee & other novelists), Radu Vancu (on JB & his Romanian soul mate Mircea Evanescu), & Claudio Sansone, especially (on JB, EP, & EPic) were ultra-wonderful & supremely convergent for this Henry.  I was even emboldened & nervy enough to get up & recite a poem at the end of Saturday's proceedings.  I hope some people enjoyed the Ecclesiastes references.  I was, indeed, too nervous & too silly.  Would have liked to have properly introduced myself, as the person designated in the spring of 1972 to organize a weekend-long memorial reading/event in honor of Berryman (who taught at Brown briefly at Edwin Honig's invitation (I think, not positive), before going to Minnesota).

Well, all this terrifically academic information doesn't quite get at the quiddity of what's on my mind.  It's been a long couple weeks in my old home town.  Berryman lived at the eastern & western borders, respectively, of 3-4 generations of Goulds & Ravlins, who, non-academics all, occupied houses & apts in an area bounded roughly by Tower Hill and the Washington Bridge.  My grandfather John Ravlin, a civil engineer, built a number of the grain elevators dotting the immediate skyline (along with the Pig's Eye sewage plant).  My other grandfather, Edward Gould, another engineer, was a veteran of WW I, & acted as marshal for the Vets Day parades every year in Minneapolis (on horseback).  He was City Assessor of Mpls for 35 years or so.  I guess I'm from old Twin Cities people.  So I spent last Saturday - John Berryman's 100th birthday - shuttling between my parents' old apartment (where I currently serve as librarian, cleaner, nurse, cook, mover, etc.), & this marvelous poetry conference : shuttling across the bridge where Berryman most mournfully ended his marvelous life, on my grandfather Ravlin's birthday.  Me, Henry, thinking about my own Hart Crane/Berryman/Ezra Pound epical efforts (orbiting in turn around Grandpa Ravlin's granddaughter, my tragickal-ghostly cousin Juliet)...

Me, Henry.  When I thought about the implications of this red-letter day, & my odd part in it at the end, so close to the bridge there - I was reminded of Russian Czar Peter the Great's legendary (but historical) visit to Amsterdam in disguise.  The king in disguise.  I wrote about the connection between epic poetry and the theological concept of kenosis, once upon a time.  & I felt a happy affinity for material presented in several of the talks, esp. those by Radu Vancu, Claudio Sansone, and Kamran Javadizadeh. Yet on Saturday, at the end of the conference, I seemed more like the flaky clown among serious literary personaggi - the scholars, the editors, the lauded poets...  I was just a minor nobody, hopping up to recite my goofy Berryman pastiche at the tail end of the show.  Maybe I was just Henry in disguise that night.  I hope a few people got the joke.

Once upon a time, when I was in high school (around 1969), I visited the home of my friend (& really my idol) Jeffrey Greenspoon, jazz guitarist, hipster guru, deep writer, old before his time (future doctor).  On his desk in his bedroom I noticed a book : John Berryman's Dream Songs.  He was reading it.  It was over my head.  Turns out Berryman was a personal friend of the parents of Jeffrey's girlfriend at the time.  He said Berryman used to show up at their suburban Minneapolis parties, with his wild Irish beard & thrilling talk, with intent to delight & astonish...


On the road

I write this evening from a motel in Elkhart Indiana, the "RV and Band Instrument Capital of the World."  I drove here down Interstate 80, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, & Indiana, on a couple of beautiful October days.  The farmlands roll out to infinity, trailing soft earth colors.  Some say Elkhart's name derives from a Potawatomi phrase for "heart of stag".  The island in the middle of town - now a park - between the St. Joseph & Elkhart Rivers does seem heart-like, with the two river veins merging there.

Anyway, this is a record of a brainstorm I had, driving west on 80.  I left early this morning from Mercer, PA, & turned off the radio in order to focus my mind a little.  I've been on a leave of absence from work since August, hence these trips to Minneapolis (to help my parents move to a retirement place).  The leave has been a blessing as far as my poetry-writing goes.  But something different happened on the road today.

I don't want to be too explicit.  Let's say there was a sudden sense that it's time for me to step out more as a poet.  I began to foresee a new way to address my - mostly American - world.  Along with the necessity of doing so.  One must dive into the arena and embody the poetic telegram - dramatize it, drive it home.  One must be less the shrinking violet & more like Vachel Lindsay, maybe : or Pindar, the impresario (Hart Crane once expressed a desire to be "a suitable Pindar for the dawn of the machine age"), or... Whitman.

Not every poet has or requires a "message".  A poem is a dandelion, an end in itself.  A poet with a theme or a message is no better - not in the slightest - than any other.  The poet who has an over-arching message to convey simply has a particular inner obligation : a certain job to do.

All I want to report here, for the moment, is that today I had that realization : along with some inklings about how to proceed.  Time to amp up my game.

p.s. just noticed again the photo to the right on this blog : the caption (from a very old postcard which a librarian colleague from Illinois handed to me once, about 30 years ago) reads : "Henry Thunder Winnebago, recording songs in a grove".  Clearly this image dates back to the early 20th century, when teams of anthropologists fanned out across the U.S. to study the "vanishing cultures" of the Native Americans.  The Winnebago of Wisconsin were near neighbors to the Potawatomi.  &, of course, the Winnebago is now the trademark model RV.  We are indeed on the road... but what road?  (The road from Elkhart.)