When I was a teenager, just getting interested in poetry, I acquired a volume of the Collected Poems by Winfield Townley Scott. “Winfield Townley who?” you may ask. In fact, he was a known (maybe not very well-known) writer back then. He’d won the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America in 1939, and his Collected Poems was a National Book Award finalist. But now he’s gone, and so is his book—gone from my shelves during some past clean-out of books I figured I didn’t need to hold on to.
Still, that book had an impact on me. Not for the actual poems in it, which didn’t really register at a time when e. e. cummings and Dylan Thomas were my early passions, but for its impressive heft which seemed to authorize (no pun) the designation of “significant poet.” I still do own the collected poems of cummings and Thomas, as well as Auden’s, Jarrell’s, Larkin’s, Moore’s, Plath’s and quite a few others. And now I’m about to have my own.
Thanks to Jessie Lendennie and her press Salmon Poetry, my newest book, The Moving Out: Collected Early Poems, is about to reach the shelves of stores that pay attention to current poetry, and hopefully some readers. Instead of a bulky single volume—too heavy to lug around, too expensive to produce—my “collected” is coming out in a pair of volumes, each running about 200 pages. The first volume is just out, the second will be published early next year, and I have to say I’m pretty stoked.
It seems like the right time. I’m in my mid-seventies, still in good health, and I don’t mind traveling around the state and the country to give readings and help promote these books. I was at AWP in Portland in March, and I’ll be at a conference celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The North American Review in Cedar Falls, Iowa later this month. As it happens, The North American Review gave me my first professional publication back in 1967. (I was actually paid, though I don’t remember how much).
The Moving Out: Collected Early Poems brings together all the poems from my first three books, each of which was chosen for publication in a national competition. The poems range from short lyrics to longer narratives. One ten-part poem recounts my experiences in an Native village at the tip of the Seward peninsula from which you can indeed see across to Russia. Another group of poems traces the changing seasons, month by month, from a ledge overlooking the Tanana River near my home outside of Fairbanks. The book ends with the sequence Spells and Auguries, which deals with our son Ben’s near-fatal coma due to encephalitis and the long-term consequences of that illness.
The book’s title poem was written following a rough period in my life as things were starting to look up. The unnamed girl in the poem is my wife Nancy, to whom the book is dedicated. Although “The Moving Out” was written long before I had any thoughts of relocating to Alaska, it seems to foreshadow that move.
THE MOVING OUT
After sunset when the grieving
move further into their grief
and the stars are revealed by their master, the darkness,
I have left the cities of the blind
along tracks straight and cold as the north.
Here I sit listening on the shore
of a white and glacial distance.
The voice of a girl like an opening flower
begins to curl forth from the inner shell of the mind.
So many nights I have waited.
In cities the darkness gobbled me up and spat me out,
my fears scuttled back and forth outside the door.
Now the first birds waken and peck among fresh snow.
The light begins to open
with a pink and icy whisper along her cheek.