Michael L. Newell
Poet's Note: Benjamin Saltman was a well-known Los Angeles poet during the seventies, eighties, and early nineties during his time as a professor at California State University, Northridge. He was, less importantly to the world, my mentor for many years. My first poem below was written when I first started studying with him in 1979 and read his (then recent) book Deck. The poem was an attempt to understand my complicated feelings about his work, and an attempt to grasp what he was doing as a writer. My second poem reflects my concerns about whether contemporary poetry will permit the use of older forms of sound. It was written more than twenty-five years ago, but I suppose its concerns remain with me today.
TO A POET ACCUSED OF OBSCURITY
- for Benjamin Saltman -
If we were to sit and talk at length I might say
you write too much of other writers here the conceit is too clever
there you are too personal where's the internal logic explain
this to me it's inaccessible but setting all that aside
I've seen you reveal the surprise in darkness, snarl
feet in tree roots, surf
Santa Ana winds, reveal landscapes in a pebble
shifting, bones in the shadow on a window shade
I'd say you've made me genuflect before flowers
too dark to name, filled my spine with snow,
left a frozen glove burning on my palm
and I'd wonder how safe it is
to understand these poems too well.
First published (in a slightly different form) in Kindling (1990), a limited edition chapbook (100 copies).
A TROUBADOUR'S CATECHISM
"Has the last song been sung?
Are there no words left to dance;
phrases that, like energetic children,
break into sudden sprints, leaps,
tumbles, cartwheels, and handstands?
Are we at last left to limp along in prose,
mile after pedestrian mile?
Have all the tunes rusted
in our throats, our vocal cords
fit only to utter complaining caws
like dismal crows trying to remember
how sound coursed freely as mountain streams
before scorching throats
by flying carelessly close to the sun?"
"No tunes but in runes," he muttered;
"no runes unless they soar;
no soaring save they grow hoar
and canny in flight; no flight
without abandoning all pretense;
no avenue to abandon pretense
save flight into song."
"Has the last song been sung?"
© 2018 Michael L. Newell
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