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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Slow Sky Shuts

The title of this entry is from the last line of the fifth poem in John Thompson's book of ghazals, Stilt Jack, as the poem appears in John Thompson, collected poems and translations (edited by Peter Sanger), published by Goose Lane Editons (1995). The poem itself

Don't talk to me of trifles; I feel the dirt in these:
what brightens when the eye falls, goes cold.

I have so many empty beer bottles, I'll be rich:
I don't know what I'd rather be: the Great Bear, or stone.

I feel you rocking in the dark, dreaming also
of branches, birds, fire and green wood.

Sudden rain is sweet and cold. What darkens
those winds we don't understand?

Let's leave the earth to be; I'm asleep.
The slow sky shuts. Heaven goes on without us.

I'm not going to try to dissect or deconstruct this poem. I'm not going to go on a long ramble about ghazals, a form I'm partial to when it's kept tight (as Thompson kept this one tight). I'll leave the ramble to the link above. I'm not going to talk about Thompson's career, or tragic (some would say pitiful) end — if you buy the book, its introduction covers that.

I'm not going to talk about the disillusionment, distrust and loneliness I find seeping out of the poem above, nor the extreme and perfect dichotomy between the Great Bear and stone, nor about the poem's tenderness, its confusion, nor its final grasp at stoicism.

So what am I going to talk about? Well, one of the things I want to cover in this blog is poetry that has affected me, influenced me. And Thompson's poetry has done that. I first read his work in the late '80s, and felt an immediate and deep connection to it. The connection remains, perhaps deeper than ever. Thompson is one of the poets I return and return to, never feeling that I've fully digested him or that his poems have lost their salt sting.

Thompson's work was my first brush up against the ghazal form. My first attempts to use it, to fit it to my own hand, were deformed and miserable and are now long gone into a dark landfill of unrecyclable [ugly word] crap. Ten or more years later, after having left the form to its own devices in whatever strange basement corner of the subconscious such things play in while a writer matures a little, I found that, whether I was ready for it or not, the ghazal was what I needed as the form for a sequence of poems which became the core of my first book.

I wanted to put a Thompson poem on here as a tribute to him, and as recognition of how he (among many others) has informed and influenced me as a poet. I chose ghazal V from Stilt Jack not because it was the biggest part of his influence, but because that was where the book opened when I sat down to choose a poem.

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Brenda Schmidt said...

I haven't read Stilt Jack yet, but I was quite enthralled with the excerpts from it that appear in the afterword in Bones in Their Wings, the book of ghazals by Lorna Crozier (Hagios Press, 2003).

Brenda Schmidt said...

And more so now, I should add, after reading your post.