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BACK ISSUES
Kingfisher Journal Vol.1, No. 1, Poet Robert Sund Issue;
Kingfisher Journal Vol.1, No. 2, Iridescent Light Issue

Kingfisher Journal Vol.1, No. 3, Sylvia Plath Issue
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Kingfisher Journal Vol.1, No. 4, James Wright Issue

Kingfisher Journal Vol.2, No.1, Richard Hugo Issue

Kingfisher
 a Journal of Northwest Art and Literature
 

Dedicated to the appreciation of poetry, fiction, painting,
 literary criticism, drawing, sculpture, music, movies, video,
 but not exclusively that produced in the Pacific Northwest

 

Joel Brock, "Cheese and Wine," pastel, 2001

Spring 2003, Volume Two, Number Two, Fourth Edition
 
Copyright 2002-3 Kingfisher Press



VISIT OUR AFFILIATED ART GALLERIES

BOOKS
Norman Mailer, The Ghostly Art, Jim Harrison, On The Side

DON'T MISS THIS
Will The Real Blue Moon Tavern Please Stand Up?

AT THE  MOVIES
AND ON THE TUBE

What, Not "Dune" again? 'Fraid so. 


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Nora?

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Things You Can Tell 

 

Theodore Roethke Commemorative Edition

T
heodore Roethke, on the porch of his home in Seattle's Washington Park

After Image of the Inner Eye

    "I love the world; I want more than the           world,
     Or after-image of the inner eye."

    from "The Dying Man, Part 4, The Exalting"

When July passes into August this summer, Ted Roethke will have been dead exactly forty years. It seems appropriate to introduce him to a generation of people who did not know him, or might not have read his poetry, and to those who may not have kept company with his large body of work, and all his arresting images, these many years.

The best way to do this is not to write passionately about the man and his poetry, as many able scholars and poets have done since his death at the age of 55not young for a poet, but not old, eitherbut to let him speak for himself. Thus you will find in this issue of Kingfisher Journal enough of a selection of his poems to send you to, or back to, The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, published and many times reprinted by Doubleday and its paperback affiliate, Anchor. ($10.47, paper, Amazon.com)

Two from Open House (1941)

The Bat
By day the bat is cousin to the mouse.
He likes the attic of an aging house.

His fingers make a hat about  his head.
His pulse beat is so slow we think him dead.

He loops in crazy figures half the night
Among the trees that face the corner light.

But when he brushes up against a screen,
We are afraid of what our eyes have seen:

For something is amiss or out of place
When mice with wings can wear a human face.

And the book's title poem:

Open House 

My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
My heart keeps open house,
My doors are widely swung.
An epic of the eyes
My love, with no disguise.

My truths are all foreknown,
This anguish self-revealed.
I'm naked to the bone.
With nakedness my shield.
Myself is what I wear.
I keep the spirit spare.

The anger will endure.
The deed will speak the truth.
In language strict and pure.
I stop the lying mouth:
Rage warps my clearest cry
To witless agony.

His second book is The Lost Son (1948). It is  important in his development, and in its own right:

My Papa's Waltz
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slide from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Its title poem established him as an important poet. "The Lost Son" is a long poem. I quote from "Part 1. The Flight," about half-way through it, followed in context by the start of "Part II. The Pit." These have become famous lines, recognizable wherever poets gather most anywhere in the world.:

The shape of a rat?
    It's bigger than that.
    It's less than a leg
    And more than a nose,
    Just under the water
    It usually goes.

Is it soft like a mouse?
Can it wrinkle its nose?
Could it come in the house?
On the tips of its toes?

Take the skin of a cat
And the back of an eel,
Then roll them in grease,
That's the way it would feel.

It's sleek as an otter
With wide webby toes
Just under the surface
It usually goes.

2. The Pit
Where do the roots go?
    Look down under the leaves.
Who put the moss there?
Those stones have been here too long.
Who stunned the dirt into noise?
    Ask the mole, he knows.
I feel the slime of a wet nest.
    Beware Mother Mildew.
Nibble again, fish nerves.

You either like this kind of stuff or you don't. I do, but, I find, not as daily fare. His later poems, however, wear well. You can read them with the same frequency and enjoyment as you can read Yeats. (How Roethke would love to hear people say that!)

A few more lines from The Lost Son:

Goodbye, goodbye, old stones, the time-order is going,
I have married my hands to perpetual agitation,
I run, I run to the whistle of money.

Money money money
Water water water.

(Much more Roethke)

 


    

I

Will The Real Blue Moon Tavern Please Stand Up?

The other night, just before bedtime, Seattle’s Channel 9, PBS, broadcast a half-hour program that kept me from nodding into my white beard. It was “Blue Moon People,” a thumbnail history of the Blue Moon Tavern, a hangout for bohemians and college students for nearly seventy years. After watching a parade of local luminaries and non-entities come forward, each advancing (and sometimes quarreling openly with) his shadowy remembrances and foregone causes, it began to grow on me that hundreds of us must have his or her own experiences of the place that exist for each of us, in turn, which are oblivious to others, and if anybody wanted to advance his own version of the tavern's history, it would be equally true and untrue, representative and unique. So why not come up with my own? It could be no less phony than the ones I was presently watching on the small screen. So here it is:
(Continued on page 2)

Theodore Roethke: Personal Notes
by Robert B. Heilman

Anyone who had listened to or read descriptions of Theodore Roethke cannot have failed to notice that one image used repeatedly to portray the physical being: "great bear of a man." It is good enough down to a certain point, but not below it. Around the middle he was expansive, even fat if he let his stomach get away from him. He had a barrel-like upper trunk, widening out still further into great shoulders that made a vast prominent mound because the head, large and striking as it was, was forward and slightly low, as if fixed there like that of a very tall woman always trying to seem, even on a grand scale, petite. . . . 


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Robert Heilman. c. 1950

A man over six feet in height, he seemed to be slightly hunching; and he could easily and quickly squeeze into a crouch in those moods when, with self-critical humor or a challenging earnestness, he liked to fancy himself the prize-fighter. His walk was rather ungainly; it had an uneasy swaying effect, as if he were deliberately putting all his weight first on one foot and then on the other; yet along with this there was a bit of a slouch, a touch of drag, as if the feet were heavy. If he wanted to hurry, his motions reminded me of a person in a dream, making great efforts but held back by some intangible weight or marshy ooze.  . . . 

He was not a straight away runner, not a track man, but rather a man of lightning foot-work, a short-paced skipper and dodger, a stage or ballroom dancer. At parties, I've heard women say, he was as good a dancer as he chose to be, lightfooted and rhythmic; it depends on whether he wanted to yield to the music or seize stage, be a participant or a dizzying staror toy with his partner in a jocose or even raucous elephantine amorousness that betrayed more a sense of spotlights than of Don Juan intentness on results. He enjoyed looking like a naughty boy and was inclined to take looking for being; in any little enterprise à deux his eyes registering delight at his deviltry, were as likely to be seeking applause from observers as consent from the women in hand. (some women found him, with his unsubtle hands and mountainous verbal coynesses, bothersome and boring; some found the sparring fun; some dutifully disliked the passes, others hated to be passed over; and veterans of dining-table and parlor skirmishes could always be relieved by new volunteers, half-ready for the purple heart, and always able, if the pressure was too severe, to retire upon reserves of husbandly strength. The reserves had styles ranging from suitable indignation, fired from heavy batteries of propriety, to an insouciant, "You know your way around the course,, dear. Don't lean on me.")

The large head was the more impressive for the thinness of the blondish, light-brown hair that left him close to bald. The blue-grey eyes, rather far apart, were rarely mild; if he was angry, or strongly moved in other ways, his glance took on an intimidating intensity. He had a large mouth that spread far and opened wide for the belly laughs that were the most characteristic expression of his gay moods; there were fewer of these in recent years. An ordinary social smile was difficult for him; the uneasy flash that he managed was a cross between a nervous simper and a grimace, as if he simply did not know how to do it or were fixing the lines of his face like an unimaginative actor responding mechanically to a director. Hence, if he was not roaring and gargantuan, he tended toward a severity of expression which betokened, however, less a we-are-not-pleased stance than a limited capacity for easy and casual amiability. In the face one was less aware of the bony structure than of the ample fleshiness; if he was not well or did not take care of himself, it took on a somewhat sodden cast. Indulgence could make it, at times, flabby and gross. Yet what looked like a heavy sulkiness could be transmuted, as quickly as his lumberingness of body into alert action, in to a variety of different strong and lively expressions: a snarl of contempt, a wide-eyed and even slightly pop-eyed burst of approval for an act or style he admire, an intense high-voiced excitement of a maker of plans, or even a grin and great chuckle of self-irony, with a pleasing medley of sharpness and good nature.

[I omit a couple of thousand words of excellent exposition to skip to the concluding two paragraphs. Ed]

. . .for all of a sometimes peremptory style, there was a kind of helplessness that made the staff helpful [to him]. He was frank, unpretentious, even rather innocent; stratagems and calculations were beyond him. He did not substitute talk for work. In trouble, he won sympathy; when he joked, laughter broke out. He had a wonderful capacity for self-criticism that would undercut all euphoric flights and grandiose dreams. He could jest richly about his own [mental] illness. Once, in wellbeing and good spirits, he looked back on a recent "high" period when he had been hospitalized, and roared gleefully, "Bet-a-million Roethke will ride again." At such moments he was irresistible.

He was always compelling. It was part of the good luck of my own life to know him well, for fifteen years, this witty and imaginative man, sometimes troublesome but more often troubled, sometimes combative but more often playful, yet always of high earnestness and conscience in his double vocation of teacher and poeta  man in whom I felt something that, I came in time to know, was to be called greatness.

Originally published in Shenandoah, in Autumn 1964, pp. 55-64, this essay was reprinted in 1975 in the initial issue of Mill Mountain Review, which included a discussion of Pacific Northwest Poetry by a number of luminaries and was dedicated to Roethke.

Robert Heilman was department chairman of English and a great champion of his teaching poet, who had myriad personal problems, but was indisputably a great poet and teacher. In fact, at the end of this essay Heilman said Roethke had a quality he sensed as greatness. Heilman's essay is long, so we regret we are able to quote only parts of it.

 

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