Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This morning, I have been re-reading one of my favorite poets, Robert Francis, a New Englander and contemporary of Robert Frost. Francis always inspires me because he was an example of a poet who persisted in being authentic in his life and work, living in virtual poverty after he built a house called Fort Juniper in the woods and fields near Amherst, Massachusetts. Francis built his poet’s retreat with an inheritance of $1,000 from his father’s life insurance. He survived on a few hundred dollars a year for at least sixteen years while he wrote poems, gave music lessons, and owned, as I once wrote about him, “freedom and leisure.” A vegan, he subsisted largely on produce from his home garden and, for many years, walked to town for needed supplies.
In a journal that Francis kept for the years 1930-1950, he records that he received 641 rejections for his poetry before he was finally published, and, then, he was never as well-known as his friend, Robert Frost. He noted that two of the portraits in the Jones Library at Amherst, Massachusetts, were of poets, and he was one of the two. Francis writes: “It [his portrait, which was labeled “poet”] gives me something of a start and also a satisfaction to be summed up in one word. I submit to the label. I am enough of a poet to be called a poet. Some day I may be more poet still…” And later in life, he did become more of a poet but utilized less and less words.
Francis’s words resonated with me today when I finally sent to press Everything Is Blue, my 14th book of poetry and 32nd book. Friends once chided me because I wouldn’t claim the title “writer,” even while I churned out articles, poems, and, finally a book in 1980. And until less than ten years ago, I didn’t claim to live so rich a life as that of a poet. This morning as I re-read Francis, I identified with his final submission to the idea of being a poet.
Everything Is Blue was inspired by one of my brother Paul’s paintings–a seascape rendered entirely in shades of blue, with the slight contrast of a silver sea gull winging through the blue sky, and his painting provided the cover for my 32nd book of poetry. My grandson Martin, who designs all of my book covers, designed the cover using Paul’s painting.
Everything Is Blue contains a title poem inspired by the painting, poems about travels to southern locales–including deceased writers’ homes–meditations about the sea, a wry poem about robots’ place in the post-modern world, the value of growing mint, and others concerning the spiritual life, with an end poem about the place of memories in a contented life.
Here’s one of the shorter poems I wrote for Everything Is Blue:
a pileated woodpecker hammers
the impenitent bark of an oak,
dogwood petals scatter
under the crooked tree,
dark angels are blinded and banished,
God has corrected all his mistakes.

We have come to this coolness,
precious Spring in the branches
of the crooked tree,
the cry in the night, a useless sound.

Now the thick silence
makes no announcements,
only the woodpecker protesting
the end of steady suffering,
white petals falling softly
as millions of bodies are reborn,

their lips forming notes of risible music
rising in the unseeing air,
the sound of light
traveling through my shadow.

Everything Is Blue can be ordered online by clicking the title, or by snail mail from Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 after September 20, 2012.

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