As promised, today is part two of my Poet Lore blogging for Sunday’s event.
Poet A.B. Spellman took a long hiatus from writing poetry to make a career at the NEA. How long? Well, his first book of poems, The Beautiful Days, was published by Poets Press in 1965. His second, Things I Must Have Known, was published this year by Coffee House Press.
As everyone who reads this blog knows, creative writing is a difficult task. It often makes you more lost than found. You know those days when you wake up and decide you just want to stay in bed, go nowhere, do nothing? That’s what creative writing sometimes feels like: there is a deep longing, sometimes, to put down your pen or close your document, click on your Internet browser of choice, and tell all your friends on Facebook what you’re thinking is that “you just can’t do it today.” (Tell me that’s not true!)
In the latest issue of The Carousel, Spellman reveals that he was “the guy who once started a magazine to get out of writing a book.” That’s what I’d call being productively unproductive. When I feel like not writing I generally do something far less interesting.
But with Things I Must Have Known Spellman is back, and what’s on the pages inside the covers of this book is the kind of wisdom associated with only veteran poets: a lifetime of experience compressed into a small space.
In “The Truth About Karen” the speaker “in the solitude of distance” sees an unnamed woman in a “snapshot.” Whether the snapshot is literal or figurative isn’t clear; nor does it matter. The emotional power of the poem is the speaker’s connection to the past. There is a hint that the woman of the past is also very much a woman of the now: “even in sleep you are never still/ beneath that woman/is the tender you/ the one i breathe with.” And in an evocative moment of intimacy and self-revelation: “i know that you better than you.”
Time has past, and a once powerful bond may be strong no longer. Time has created distance. As with Gardner McFall’s poem “My Father Meets Amelia Earhart,” which I discussed in yesterday’s post, it’s the speaker’s relationship to the passage of time–and the joining of that time to an individual history–that marks a major moment in this poem.
In “Thursday, Early April” the speaker has lost his partner and is reminiscing on what is gone. It’s a mournful, touching poem that penetrates the core of what it means to love: “i eat, hear the violations of the day/ on all things considered and wish for you.” Perhaps even more powerful: “i go to bed with the radio/ the sheets are cold on your side.”
In this, one hears yet again the echo of lost time, time lost. A.B. Spellman’s great achievement in this collection is his ability to weave memory together with emotion to create a rich, wise, and illuminating series of poems with real lasting power.
A.B. Spellman is the author of Things I Must Have Known and The Beautiful Days. He is also a noted jazz critic and has taught at several universities. Come see him this Sunday at Poet Lore’s birthday bash at The Writer’s Center. 2p.m.