Monday, November 30, 2009
A Tagliabue poem, maybe shaped like a boat, sails into your life.
Published in Poetry, August 1960
Where people of today dwell, I do not dwell. What people of today do, I do not do.
If you clearly understand what this really means, you must be able to enter a pit of fire with your whole body.
People imagine enlightenment will make them incredibly powerful. And it does. It makes you the most powerful being in all the universe---but usually no one else notices.
The first question I ask when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful? And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
The other day I was crawling around on the floor underneath our garage-saled computer desk...from which I've embarked upon years of cyberspace adventures and exploration. Occasionally there have been stormy seas. Always the used desk requires on-hands-and-knees maintenance, because a joint wiggles loose and I have to get down there and set it secure again. This time though I happened to look down to my right, and there was a corner of a piece of paper sticking out from who knows how long ago. I pulled at it carefully and produced a page of 2 poems mailed to me by John Tagliabue, poems I don't think I'd ever read before.
John was my favorite professor 50 years ago at Bates, my eventual thesis advisor, and somehow blessed me with his friendship the rest of his life. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer on the last day of May 2006, just short of his 83rd birthday. In between he would mail envelopes full of typewritten poems to his friends, always encouraging us to share them freely. He liked the image of the Chinese poet who would ride along on a stream in a little boat, writing things on leaves and dropping them over the side. He wasn't published as much as he should have been (and should be) but he had very little patience with the "industry." He mailed poems out to little journals constantly though, and much of that work did see the light of day...but the journals themselves flickered out quickly. The big one always was Poetry, but the poem above is one of the relatively few times John showed up in those esteemed pages. You can see the artful way he arranged his words.
I have a whole closet full of Tagliabue poems, almost all of them unpublished. I wish I could say they're arranged in careful chronological order...but they're not. My life, my travels, my chaos are such that almost nothing is arranged anymore...except my collection of jazz records. Even that has gotten sloppy. I'm not alone in having saved all the Tagliabue correspondence I'm sure. There are others of us who have these great stacks of poems and reminiscences, and we should all get together soon and collate everything into a gigantic volume. Time is growing short...and then, what would we do with it? And some of us know the magical secret of the Puppet Plays too. Ah John, how you haunt us still!
But back to these 2 poems from under the computer desk. John identifies the day of writing the second as July 2nd, 2005, and therefore they are among the final poems of his life. The page is titled 82nd Year. John had fallen onto a sidewalk in Providence, where he and his wondrous wife Grace decided to retire, leaving their beloved Maine. He never said what caused the fall, just a stumble. He didn't indicate a twinge of pain that might have brought the stumble...but in the next year the diagnosis came, and suggestion of urgent surgery which didn't work out. Tagliabue did not write about his final months of life as Updike did. I've been reading Endpoint from the death bed just published this year. Tagliabue continued celebration and dance, taking it all in stride---with nary a stumble. Here they are~~~
1. A breathing in time saves millions
So many inspirations, expirations
repeated original respirations, mouth to mouth
words, the varieties of the Holy Spirit, came out of our
one enlivened another ! the breath of life Escapes
escapes also from us ? all these daily escapades
and Brazil and India and Elsewhere are crowded. The
populations with their different beliefs, songs,
somewhat realize that letting ourselves go with
is propitious, is more or less appropriate
2. WPA and/or
A can be for Applause of freedom's Activity
to write a poem unless that is a game
you really want
to play, often it doesn't pay, and as Gertrude Stein
said "To try
is to die." But don't disrespect or neglect a
lovely urge or
a necessary dirge or delight. Sure, try IF
you FEEL like
it. Ah, feelings at any age can be made
This is the 2nd day of my 82nd age and I'm
page the continuing works. As for form what
I was looking this morning to see if there's more information on the Internet about Tagliabue now, and there is. In fact, he's catching up with his more famous cousin, also named John Tagliabue. I thought maybe I could give you a link, in case you're interested. What I can't resist is an incredible display of John's life and work put together by somebody at IBM. It's arranged like one of John's poems! but with techie twists and turns. Tagliabue would have loved it. Thankfully I can hear his eternal laughter in my mind's ear.