Pankake Poetry Event with Jim Moore.

– Well, good afternoon everyone. I’m Wendy Lougee, the university librarian and Dean of Libraries. And, it’s wonderful to
welcome you to what is our 10th annual Pancake Poetry event. It’s quite an anniversary. Now, this annual gathering was actually begun years ago, well before 10 years ago when librarian Marcia Pancake
planned a special reading every year during Poetry
Month, which is April. And, when she retired we
continued the tradition and named the series in her honor. And, Marcia we wanna thank
you for leading the way. Marcia’s here this afternoon with us. (crowd applauds) And, we also want to thank
her successor Malaika Grant, over there who is our (crowd applauds) she’s our librarian for
English and also African and African American studies. And, she organizes this event every year. Now, today’s program is sponsored by the Friends of the Libraries and as part of the Friends Forum series For Curious Minds. And, for those Friends who are here today we really appreciate your commitment. And, the rest of you
if you’re not a Friend it’s time to join. Now, it’s a well known fact that Minnesota has a rich literary tradition
and creative output. I’m gonna put this to the test. How many of you have
written a poem outside of a class assignment? Raise your hand and
keep it up, keep it up. Okay, how many of you
have published a memoir or a short story or an essay. Keep your hands up. I want full cumulative effect here. How about, let’s see,
what did I leave off? A novel, any novel writers? I mean, look at the numbers out there. It’s impressive, right? And, in addition to writers
Minnesota also boasts a number of publishers
who nourish and encourage and fund writers. There’s Milkweed Press, Milkweed Editions, Graywolf Press, Nodin Press, Coffee House, Holy Cow Press, just to name a few. And then, there are media like Rain Taxi, who promote the hundreds of
events and readings each year. And, of course, The Loft Literary Center, whose founders’ list includes today’s honored poet, Jim Moore. Now, Jim adds his name to a long list of stellar Minnesota Pancake poets. We have Jim Lenfestey,
Louis Jenkins, Heid Erdrich, Eidbach Lee, Joyce Sutphen,
Michael Dennis Brown, Ray Gonzalez, Bao Phi, Margaret Hassey, what a line up. And, here to introduce
our most recent poet please welcome our first Pancake poet and Friends of the Library
board member Jim Lenfestey, Jim? (crowd applauds) – Wow, wonderful to see you all here. You’re in for a treat. Well, there must have been
something in the water at the water fountain at the coffee pot in the English Department at
the University of Minnesota in the 1960s because a
group of scruffy pals Garrison Keillor,
Patricia Hampl, Lewis Hyde rocketed from there to literary stardom along with their rumpled
pal, poet Jim Moore. Jim was the quietest of
that remarkable quartet living today in downtown
Minneapolis with his wife, JoAnn Verburg, the
photographer, teaching poetry at the Hamlin MFA program, teaching often in Colorado as well. He just flew back for
this, he’s still working in Colorado right now
and living half a year with JoAnn in Spoleto, Italy. Most of what we know personally
of this remarkable man, a founding spirit of The
Loft Literary Center, are a few portraits of
him by JoAnn like the one gracing the gracing the cover of his latest collection, Underground, his new and selected
published by Graywolf Press, in which he looks like a street
vagrant or a rumpled angel, in either case, quietly at home among the fallen leaves of Autumn. Jim, like most wannabe writers
in those university days studied with the awe that was Barryman, worked on the literary magazine
The Lamp and the Spine, and paid homage by
visiting Robert Bly’s farm in the wild universe of Western
Minnesota where he learned the skill of digging a
hole for the latrine. Jim stayed with that
humble spading at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and
through nearly a year in jail as a conscientious objector
to the Viet Nam War. Jim’s contact with real dirt, real people, really things, real history, and all their unexpected and sometimes
explosive circumstances taught him to include them,
all of them, the rest of us. Devoting his life to
illuminating the difficult and beautiful facts of
life for the rest of us somehow suffused in what I can only call a radiant kindness unique to him. From his first collection
of poems, The New Body, published in 1975 by
University of Pittsburgh Press to his later publishing
tenure with Milkweed Editions and Graywolf Press, plus two
glorious Fine Press Editions, one writing with Se-gor from the Luminous, the press at Colorado college. Jim’s poetic, invisible
strings have tied the grief of the world together
to its ordinary beauty. Excuse me, like that clump
of roses held in the hand of that old West Bank flower
seller Jim once hymned and tied us all together as well. The very first poem in this
remarkable new and selected collection makes this
astonishing prediction. “I want to become thin as a flute song “that goes into the delicate inner ear “and coils there holding in balance “the lives of everyone I love.” It’s an honor to welcome
that maker of flute songs we cannot forget, poet Jim Moore. (crowd applauds) – That was a really
beautiful introduction. I do have one small
quarrel about the rumpled. (laughs) Because this is a very
distinguished reading series I did go online to see, to
try to pick up some tips from other folks who’ve
read in the series. Actually, I was just looking
to see how they dressed and the older ones tended to wear coats, the younger ones just
sweaters, so of course I wore a sweater. (laughs) No really, beautiful
introduction and beautiful what you’ve done for
this writing community with your own work and all
the multitudes of things you’ve done, reading
series, and publishing, and everything else, thank you for that. (crowd applauds) Well, I lost my little crib
sheet about all the people I was gonna thank, but I think
I’ve got it all in my head. I definitely want to thank
the Pancake Reading Series, the University of Minnesota Libraries. It really is a distinguished
reading series. I feel really very lucky to be here in the U of M in general
where I graduated, where I’ve taught on
and off over the years, very appreciate it. And, I want to thank students from Hamlin and also Hamlin in general
for allowing me to teach in their program. The Colorado College, which
has also been a great pleasure. Graywolf Press, their 45th
anniversary this year. Very lucky, obviously,
to be publishing there and The Loft, which has supported my work over many decades, so
thank you one and all. If any institution it’s only
because I misplaced my list. (laughs) Well, I thought I’d begin with with three poems that are
sort of introductory poems, I guess you could say. This was the last poem in my
book Lightening at Dinner, What Do I Look Like. “Clusters of dandelion
seeds, spent and beautiful “casting themselves without worry or fear “into the very current
of air that carries them “away from themselves. “I have taken a shape that
loses itself in the wind, “a common weed without parent or child. “Everywhere I land I feather again, “again begin without regard to beauty. “What do I look like? “This lilac scented, wind blown, gauzy, “cardinal throated Spring. “No one need bother tell me ever again “what’s up ahead. “As the purple lilacs
feel swollen and full “asway on their bent stems, “so I feel when someone
picks me in huge handfuls, “puts me in water, and keeps
me for as long as I last.” Did I thank you all for
coming, that was sure as hell on my list. (laughs) A couple of other introductory poems, only a poet would call
a poem called Epitaph and introductory poem, but Epitaph. “He stole forsythia, he lived for love, “he never got caught.” (laughs) And, one more little introductory poem. “At seven a.m. watching
the cars on the bridge “everybody’s going to work. “Well, not me. “I’m not going to work.” The Poet’s Anthem. (laughs) This really isn’t good. All my poems are missing. (laughs) I’m serious, every single
new poem I brought. There’s nothing there on the chair? – [Man] Oh, Jim. (laughs) – Just a trip, just a trip anymore. (laughs) That’s really funny, you guys. (laughs) I’ll tell you man, glad I put on that super strong deodorant today because. Okay, I’m gonna move back
and forth a little bit between older poems and new poems. This is a newer poem called Whatever Else. “Whatever else the
little smile on the face “of the woman listening to a music “the rest of us can’t hear “and a sky at dawn with a moon of its own, “whatever else the construction crane “high above us, waiting to be told “to do our bidding, “we who bid and bid and bid, “whatever else the way cook number one “looks with such longing
at cook number two “let’s not be too sad
about how sad we are. “I know about the disappearance
of the river dolphins, “the sea turtles with tumors. “I know about the way
the dead don’t return “no matter how long they take to die “in the back of the police car. “I know about the thousand
ways our world betrays itself. “Whatever else, my friend
spreading wide his arms “looks out at the river and says, “‘after all what choice did I have?’ “After all I saw the man
walking who’d had the stroke, “saw the woman who’s
body won’t stop shaking. “I saw the frog in the tall
grass, boldly telling us “who truly matters. “I saw the world proclaim
itself an unlit vesper candle “while a crow flew to the tip of it, “sleek black match burning.” How to Close the Great
Distance Between People. “Do it over coffee, like fish
that appear to be talking “but are really eating to stay alive.” (laughs) – [Man] Jim, are you ready? This is your book. – I know, it’s all right you can keep it. It’s kinda got a battered
cover, I’d rather have yours. This is
(laughs) (laughs) the least you can do after this. (laughs) Today’s Meditation. “Happiness, in the end all that matters “is light and dark “and what’s not finished between them. “As long as he stands back far enough, “deeply enough inside the room “he’s fine, he gets the point of things, “how they come and then must go. “But, the blue sea beyond the window “it has always done this to him, “always forced him further into happiness “than he thought he could stand to go.” Yeah, you really are here. (laughs) Okay, I also wanted to
mention that I’m really happy to be reading in the Kohl’s auditorium. I loved what they gave to
this community, John and Sage, and how fiercely they fought for the arts and gave to the arts. John actually took a
poetry course from me once. There were eight or nine women,
there was myself, and John. And, the women were in their
20s and 30s and John was not. He was like in his 70s or so. And, I said, “How’s this gonna go?” And, he just went for it. It was really fantastic. And, he seemed not to
mind being surrounded by younger women, that was all right. (laughs) I don’t know that he
really learned anything about poetry but he just, he
had the exploratory spirit. And, I loved that in him and
in her, and in Sage, for sure. All right, Today’s Meditation,
another Today’s Meditation. The Crucifixion, based
on a painting Tintoretto. “It’s still going on, it’s
not even close to being over, “the man in pain hanging there, “he hasn’t got a prayer. “He’ll go slowly, he’ll take hours. “This isn’t about God, it’s
anyone who’s going down “inch-by-inch and won’t
be coming back again. “There’s not a thing we can do to stop it. “For centuries this has been happening. “Someone dies slowly,
alone, without comfort. “No wonder the sky is
black behind the dying man “and the ferns a sickly
green, and the ground “is a dusty unforgiving
slab of cracked earth. “This is where we live. “And, the only God to believe in “is the God of Suffering. “The man or woman bound hand and foot “on the cross of whatever pain “has finally claimed them. “Here’s what we do Tintoretto says, “we who live on this Earth
who watch from the sidelines. “Some of us ride fancy
horses, pause a moment “to gape in horror then gallop away. “Some of us are poor or on foot. “We too stare, we too
leave, but more slowly “one step at a time looking back in fear. “We can’t help ourselves, such suffering. “Some of us point with our right hand. “We are saying, ‘look,’ but
our heads are turned away. “We know we need to see
what the world is doing “to one of its own, but we can’t bear “to really look. “Some of us hide in dark corners, “the ones who have cards and dice. “Bottles that are almost empty “guide some of us through the darkness. “For us there is nothing
to see, nothing to look at. “All suffering is a
distant smear of paint, “beautiful in its way. “There are always a few among us “who gather at the foot of suffering. “The humble ones, usually the women, “the mothers, the ones
who love not because “it is right, but because they must. “In this collapse of
women in beautiful robes “next to two men who believed in him “in this collapse called grief, “in this sorrow beyond endurance “that is, in the name of love, endured. “In this collapse of the faithful “onto bare Earth begins
what Tintoretto sees “as the only peace that is worth painting “the one that lives like this, “sprawled at the feet of suffering. “It’s the rest of us
who sadden Tintoretto. “How busy the painting is
with all the ways there are “to miss the point of
our lives in the face “of such incessant, unceasing mortalities. “There is no justice such
suffering could possibly serve. “And, far in the background
one ghostly figure “standing by herself on the left “surely is signature to all the rest, “a pure creature of imagination “solitary in her flickering,
insubstantial body “blessed by the absence of
life in the absence of death.” Well, that’s one part of
Italy, one experience of Italy. This is another one. Late, Later, Latest. “If I stood like this each
evening near nightfall, “stood silent in June
next to this olive tree, “if I could breathe in
time to its breathing “to the in of fading light, “the out of oncoming darkness “what fear could death then hold for me?” January First, the Beach. “The daughter wears a long tee shirt. “She’s four at most, in search
of the shallowest wetness “she can find. “She already knows no and careful now. “She already believes the
warning about a bad world, “a wave on top of a shark
on top of an over your head “mindless tangle of
salt water and sea wind “and going down forever. “The whole point of the game “is to hold a plastic bucket as a prop “and skip to the edge of
the world as she knows it. “Her older brother is short
haired, pale, intense. “He’s just too busy to waste time on her. “His work, to order the most
excellent and perfect shells “to come toward him out of the surf. “She would scoop them up
in indiscriminate fistfuls. “His passion is for the
perfect glistening shape, “wet and gasping for air
like a face under tears. “One at a time as if
shelving expensive delicacies “he places them in his pail. “Mother’s butt is on the blanket, “her toes dug in under shells and sand. “Her wandering glance refuses all loyalty. “She looks from magazine to horizon, “spends more time eyeing
her nails carefully “than watching her children. “The delicious sag of
her body says it all. “She’s on this beach for the laziness. “Let him do it this time,
the first child watch “of the day, of the year. “And, he does do it. “The husband and father
stands behind his fishing pole “not watching the lines for fish at all, “instead tracking the tee
shirt enveloped four year old “and the serious boy of 10. “The pole is his prop and he holds it “towards the water like an offering. “He keeps jerking his head back and forth “as if trying to look in
all directions at once. “It’s how his whole body keeps stumbling “against the surrounding air that tells me “this trembling is unending. “It goes where he goes. “It is his only home. “The fishing pole shakes in his hand “and his hand shakes against
the bulky, unstable shore “of his body. “At night he must stare at the place “where darkness pools
on the bedroom ceiling. “Does his wife just lie beside him “her stillness a kind of reproach “his right hand on her
left working the space “between his body and
hers, or does it matter “as long as their skins shine together “in the velvet clasp
of flesh against flesh? “When the fish strikes
not one of us is ready. “The woman jumps to her feet. “The girl shrieks as she
runs towards her father. “The boy lets his pail fall. “And, all of us watch the
man at the slippery task “of bringing it in. “It’s a beauty, too, “silver, huge, flailing
away at the universe “of air and light. “In the moment of
surprise as the fish leaps “the man’s neck forgets to shake or jump. “He grows as still as a concert hall “in the long moment after the
last note falls into silence “and everything is solved momentarily “before the applause. “It is time now for me to go home. “The show is over. “The family on the beach stays behind. “They have their fish “and their day at the shore before them. “Later, I will go to the grocery store “where the young woman
works whose baby died. “She decided to stay in
this small town by the sea. “‘That way I’ll always know
the names of the streets “‘where he would have
walked,’ she said once “when I was leaving
with my milk and bread. “‘Thank you for listening,’
she said, as I left “as if her grief and her love
were things she’d owed me, “a kind of debt.” “On this cloudy May Day I keep thinking “maybe June is what I
need to make me happy.” (laughs) Those Others. “We lived at the end of an empire. “Sometimes we gathered in huge auditoriums “and tried to understand. “Our shame did not save us,
nor our sadness redeem us “as we came to understand how
others far into the future “would look back at us
shaking their heads. “We hoped in sorrow, more likely anger.” I wrote that poem in
2011 but it still seems to be appropriate. This is a new one, Greed. “I take what I can get from
the time that I have left. “A grasping way to live, I know, “but it’s what I’ve got. “In the day time cicadas, at
night crickets and tree frogs. “Late Summer poppies more orange than red. “I drink from the ancient fountain “that carries water down
from the ancient mountain. “I sit on a stone ledge
waiting for the woman I love. “I need, and need, and need. “Pine needles strewn all over the grass “smelling of sunlight and sacrifice “as if burned at the altar. “The grass itself, the
grandfather and grandmother “each pushing a stroller, “the happiness of a duty gladly assumed. “Poem, don’t abandon me
to what I already know. “I’m like an empty stroller
in search of its child. “Or the mother to be of God
being told by Frangelico’s angel “I’ve got some good
news and some bad news. (laughs) “It’s a sickness to be her, “to be struck dumb with sacredness, “to know you cannot manage such a thing “without more pain than can be borne “and yet you will bear it
because that’s what we do. “I’m that boy hiding under the lilac bush “behind the clothes line
in the dusty Summer shadow. “Someone keeps calling me in a loud voice, “someone desperate for me
to come home right now.” This one’s called What it’s Like Here. “It was nothing unusual,
just a woman bare knuckled “on a cold day pushing
an empty grocery cart “up University towards Hill. “You see it all the time
on this planet of theirs. “I had been to what they call a movie “and I was what they call happy. “As you know fate has given
me a wife beloved to me. “Yes, beloved is a thing they understand. “Right now she’s playing come with the dog “while I write this report. “Sometimes she says to me, “‘You’re really from another planet.” (laughs) Sorry, I almost lost it there. “I just hold my tongue. “There is hell around every corner here. “There are people who are paid well “to ruin the lives of others. “There are people strapped down to chairs “and a button is pushed. “Smoke rises sometimes, off
their bodies before they die. “I do not tell you think to shock you, “but because you need to
know there are planets “where such things happen. “Even so, there is happiness
of a kind your would recognize. “Right now there is snow, a
thing that divides itself up “into many pieces then falls from the sky “until all ugliness is covered. “‘Beautiful day, isn’t it,’ people say “and it’s not a question. “My question is where do I go from here? “What do you want of me? “Why was I born on this planet? “You’ll want to know did
I stop and help the lady. “I did not. “And, you’ll want to know
what does beloved mean “if not that. “I don’t know, I only
breathe one breath at a time. “Not like you who breath
so many lives at once. “We drove home, my beloved and I. “The movie, it was called Men of Honor, “a kind of dream of how things should be. “We didn’t like it. “Nothing about it rang true. “But, we held hands anyway then went out “into the bare knuckled
cold described above.” 20 Questions. “Did I forget to look
at the sky this morning “when I first woke up? “Did I miss the Willow tree, “the white gravel road that
goes up from the cemetery, “but to where? “And, the abandoned house on the hill “did it get even a moment? “Did I notice the small
clouds so slowly moving away? “And, did I think of
the right hand of God? “What if it is a slow
cloud descending on Earth “as rain, as snow, as shade. “Don’t you think I should
move on to the mop? “How it just sits there too often unused “and the stolen rose on its stem. “Why would I write a poem without one? “Wouldn’t it be wrong not to mention joy, “sadness its sleepy eyed twin? “If I’d caught the boat
to Mykonos that time “when I was 19 would the moon
have risen out of the sea “and shone on my life so
clearly I would have loved it “just as it was? “Is the boat still in the harbor “pointing in the
direction of the open sea? “Am I still 19 going in or going out? “Can I let the tide
make of me what it must? “Did I already ask that?” I just kind of want to
keep looking at you all. Let me take my glasses off for a second. Poetry, (smacks lips) yeah. (laughs) And now, a little advice
from the wise poet. “Be careful or your fears will chase off “the red winged black birds
who live in the tall grasses “by the path near the fake dairy. “You will be so alone.” Life, a Disappearance. “One, weren’t the four black
smoke stacks a part of it “and the rainy wind blowing
birds back and forth “and the light coming on toward nightfall “as beautiful as beautiful could be? “Weren’t the October leaves? “Wasn’t there first the slow
touching and then the urgent? “But, oh those leaves
to answer your question “about why I spent my life writing poetry. “Their strange smell of rot and spice, “it takes a whole lifetime, after all, “to acquire the nose for it. “Two, in the rainy wind
blowing birds back and forth “and the light as beautiful as could be “wasn’t there first the slow touching? “To answer your question writing poetry, “it takes a whole lifetime after all. “Three, as beautiful could be, “wasn’t there first the slow touching? “Rot and spice, to answer your question. “Four, weren’t the October leaves “coming on toward nightfall
as beautiful writing poetry. “Five, it takes a whole
lifetime after all.” The rest of these poems I’m going to read are new poems, newish poems. All This Love. “I don’t know anymore where
I’m going with all this love. “It’s ridiculous to be so old
and so in love with sun rise. “I mean the words sun
and rise, cough drops, “sound so horribly unpromising, “but still consider the suck
and subtle burn of them, “the pleasure in letting
sweetness have its way. “Your throat a coat
channeled of letting go “like Broadway and Broome,
a corner know to all, “so very old. “And, sometimes I go into Starbucks there “just to see the barista look at me “a little flirty under her purple eye lids “and lips all plum with gloss
and say of all things my name, “Jim, oh Jim oh such a name.” (laughs) Thank you, I appreciate that. (laughs) “Unknown to all except for
her and a few thousand birds “that I have seen love, truly love “two shining wings at a
time, Broadway and Broome, “wheeling north and east toward the river “crying out at they do, my birds. “And, it’s just a little frightening to be “this clueless about the love “in the Broome and Broadway Starbucks “as I look down at the dead
boy in the paper washed ashore. “Someone inside me is
standing up for a better view, “seeing the sea off Lesbos
where the boats bleed out “too far from shore. “And, some love has no home at all, “no survivors under four,
no survivors over 70. “It’s ridiculous to be so old “to still say sunrise, sunset. “Lost at sea and salt over all “because this is the way love works. “Lost at sea means lost at sea.” Milk and Beans. “Someone at the next table says, “‘But he’s fucking 70 years old.’ “A table away I smile
my silent fucking smile. (laughs) “Across the way they
are making a stage set “as they do every morning at seven a.m. “I see palm trees and two crossed swords. “A desert is implied, an oasis. “It is time once again to begin. “Passing my face in the
mirror I raise one eyebrow, “you devil you, then head out
to buy the milk and beans.” (laughs) This is a poem with my
teacher John Barryman in mind. “Driving the river road past the bridge “where all those years
ago my teacher jumped. “Tonight fog, a warm wind,
people with umbrellas “hurrying from one place to the next.” So, this next poem is called Be Them Now and it’s got a little
heading under the title, June 17th, 2015 Charleston,
South Carolina, Venice, Italy was the day that nine
African Americans were killed in that mass shooting at the
Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. I happened to be in Venice on that day and was loving being
in Venice and picked up the newspaper and read this story. Be Them Now. “Be an earthworm pushing the
dirt around on an island. “Be those boys playing
volleyball, spike and shout. “Drop to your knee when
they drop to their knees. “Pound the red earth then
fall laughing on your back. “Now, be the man in the
fedora leaning on his cane. “You see the stillness at
the center of the universe? “Be the ragged pines
at the edge of the sea, “the dead mother calling out inside you. “Be him again, the young
man you were in 1970 “standing near barbed wire. “Your friend said no
matter how long you live “you will always be white. “Just be the whole damned
day falling into night. “Be them now, the sea, the
mountains, the locusts, “the lagoon, the pine needles growing, “the pine needles strewn,
the privileged one, “the boats, the dogs, the
light shadow, the light bearer, “the labor of the man pushing the cart “filled with dirty sheets, the silver foil “matted in the grass, the three cypresses, “the ticket booth. “Knowing you will be shot, “knowing you will be the one after next, “knowing you will be next, “knowing it is now. “Be the locust, be the
locust, be the locusts. “One bench over a man
with his head in his hands “cries out, rapido, rapido, rapido “ever louder in the midst of this quiet, “these dusky leaves we are
pleased to call beauty, “these overarching trees. “Be everyone and everything, “the sky full of lightening, “the mother nursing by the lagoon, “that soldier with an ornamental sword, “a building in ruins,
city half disappeared “in clouded moonlight. “Be those trees darkened with twilight “or are they shrouds. “Be the baby dazed with milk. “Be the shawl shielding
the mother’s breasts. “Two dogs lie panting in the grass. “Be the next voparetto
approaching, motor slowing, “almost here now. “Be now a breathing son
about to step on deck. “Be a spared daughter, “be them now, the ones who sail away.” I have a long history of
writing poems about ambulances. I know it doesn’t sound
like a very cheery topic, but really there’s something about them that I find very moving and sort of like, you know when you meditate sometimes they ring a bell to kind of remind you to quit thinking about
what you’re gonna have for dinner later, or something like that. I think when I hear
the ambulance it’s that kind of bell for me. What Helps. “Someone sick is being
carried away very fast “in an ambulance while
two girls in the park “sit in sunlight combing
each others’ hair. “Thinking of myself as an
instrument badly played “by a world still learning the
basic chord structure helps.” This one I haven’t come
up with a title for yet. “No, I didn’t move the instruction manual “for your new video camera. (laughs) “No, I didn’t touch the blueberries. “And, I certainly didn’t move the finial “whatever that is, not even a single inch. “No, I didn’t hide the granola, “nor did I chop up the headboard
of the bed for firewood. (laughs) “No, I didn’t sell the apartment
and forget to tell you. “I certainly did not sneak trans fats “into the rice and beans. (laughs) “But yes, it was me
who did allow the puppy “onto the living room
couch, sitting there now “demanding from both of us
the same thing, love undying.” Okay, two more. Also Known As. “If you are more close to the dying “than you would like to
be and slowness begins “to define the idea of difficulty “into something you would
much rather take a pass on “then it is time for
the sky to grow larger “than the Earth, than the sea even. “You need to go to that
place where your story “is seriously quiet. “Nothing in it counts
compared to the things “sky calls out to, birds,
clouds, the occasional cypress “that has reached beyond itself. “You can call it a kind of
waiting and that would be fair. “There is a green bench in the sky, “a corner of heaven, you could say. “And there, I can sit in the shade “and watch the grandfather and grandson “walk by hand-in-hand. “The little one makes the older
one laugh again and again. “And, that is the way it works in heaven. “Also known as going home, “also known as getting over yourself.” Okay, thank you all so much for coming. This is my last poem and
I really do so appreciate you being here. Fear and Love. “I wish I could make the
argument that a river “and a sunset plus a certain
amount of calm looking “away from the ego are enough. “But, whatever comes next must include “tents in the parking
lot, that homeless camp “on the way to the airport,
and the hole in your cheek “from the cancer removed yesterday. “I said last night in the few seconds “before I fell asleep,
‘You do realize, don’t you, “‘everything is falling apart.’ “You said, ‘Okay, I’ll
try to keep that in mind.’ (laughs) “And now, it is starting to be late again “just like every other night
during the last 75 years. “‘Fear and Love,’ you said my
friend in an impromptu speech “at his 65th birthday party, a surprise. “‘We all live caught
between fear and love.’ “He tried to smile as
he spoke then sat down. “Yesterday you saw the moon
from the operating table “where they were about to cut you. “‘Look,’ you demanded and the surgeon bent “and turned to see it from
your angle, knife in hand.” Thanks everybody. (crowd applauds) Thank you.
(crowd applauds) (crowd applauds) Thank you very much. (crowd applauds) Have I got answers for your questions. Don’t leave, we’ve got questions now. (laughs) You’re going to miss the good part. Anybody have any questions? (laughs) Yes. – [Man] Did the poems that
Lenfestey handed back to you still have your name on ’em? – No, he put his own name on ’em. (laughs) And, there are little notes
saying which magazines he submitted ’em to. (laughs) Any other questions? (laughs) Yes, Jim. – [Jim L.] We love your poems. They’ve been around for a long time. We love your poems and I
read your lovely essays on your website. The one question you didn’t address and I’ve been curious about at some point you decided to be a poet
and you stayed with it. When did that start? How did that happen that you said, “I’m gonna do that versus being a welder “or a bus driver”? – You’re all very lucky I
did not become a welder. (laughs) Your houses would be, well it was sort of process of elimination. I kind of always knew I
wanted to be a writer. My grandmother was a writer. I liked to write. It was something you could do alone. People didn’t bother you. I was reasonable good at
it, not particularly great. So, I was trying to
write all kinds of stuff, stories and novels. Finally, I was kind of, like in high school I loved
reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It didn’t still occur to
me really to write poetry. But then, in college I had a
sort of interruption of plot and left the college where
I was going to school, went to another place,
was completely confused in my own, left because I’d fallen in love with my roommate’s girlfriend
and so it seemed like the mature thing to do would be to leave. (laughs) And so, I did, but I went into a bookstore down in Norman, Oklahoma where I ended up and was just looking at
books ’cause I like books. And, pulled a book off the
shelf and it was a book by Kenneth Rexroth, who is a great poet. I’m sure many of you know his work. And, he, much older
than me and much smarter in every way, but writing poems about sort of the same kind of experience that I had just gone through, like crisis of the heart you could say. And, it was really smart
and it was really helpful. And, I sat on the floor of that bookstore and just read through the whole book. And, that was the point when I really started writing poetry. So, I was pretty late. Lots of people start
when they’re quite young, but I was in college. Anything else? Any non-Lenfestey related questions? (laughs) – [Woman] Are you heartened by the fact that there seems to be a
lot of poetry being written, lots of different kinds of poetry? – Am I heartened by the
fact that a lot of poetry is getting written these days? – [Woman] Yes, and that a
lot of people seem to be more interested than they
have been for quite a while. – I’m completely heartened
by it, and kind of amazed to tell you the truth. It’s mostly younger
poets and younger people reading the poems. It’s a desperate time
and in desperate times people do turn to poetry. That’s why you get great poetry coming out of countries that have
had desperate histories, Poland, Russia, Chile, other places. Well, we’re going through our moment and the young poets are
rising to that moment and I love it, it’s great. One guy in a bookstore told me, who runs the bookstore, he
said, “Well, I never used to “really carry much
poetry, sorry,” he said. (laughs) “But, it’s really changed
now because people “really want poetry.” So yeah, I think it’s
pretty wonderful, yeah. Anything else? – [Woman] Yes, can you talk
about how long it takes you to write a poem and how
much rewriting you do? – Some poems don’t take any time at all, just a few seconds. Other poems like the long
poem I read about Venice and Charleston took
years in the sense that I’d written some of that material before the event in Charleston happened. I mean, I wrote a poem
about my mother dying that took many, many years. And then, lost of poems
sometimes I’ll set myself to task of writing 15 or 20 poems a day. So, if you guys aren’t
doing that at least you’re (laughs) I don’t know, probably
not much hope for you. (laughs) Needless to say most of
them aren’t very good, but I do like the
process of writing and so I’ll write quickly. Now, at this point in my
life I’m writing more slowly. So, some of these poems
that I read tonight are poems that I’ve been working
on for quite a long while. A long while being maybe a
year or longer even, yeah. – [Woman] Hi, thanks so much for your reading and for your work.
– You’re welcome. – [Woman] Can you talk a
little bit about the writers whose work you love and who
you’re reading right now? – There’s so many writers that I love. I’ve been rereading a
wonderful Polish poet, Julia Hartwig, recently. I really recommend her. She has two books in English. She’s pretty straight forward. She went through everything
through the Nazis to the communist occupation. Her husband was killed;
he had been in the army. She just has an indomitable,
beautiful spirit so I’ve been reading her a lot. Who else have I been reading? I’ve been reading Ross Gay’s new book, which is really fun,
the Book of the Lights. How a poet can be that
happy I do not know, but (laughs) more power to him. It’s a wonderful book. I just, I read so much all the time. I’m trying to think who I brought with me. I’ve been reading the Greek
poet again, Yannis Ritsos whom I love. I like to read poets from other countries and other cultures. Somehow, it’s freeing for me. It makes the universe feel larger to me, so I welcome those poets. Otto Lamoan I’ve been
reading recently, so good. There’s so many poets, yeah. If I left a poet out that you love I’m probably reading that person as well. (laughs) – [Man] Do you study other languages? – Other than what? (laughs) No, not really. I sort of kind of speak
Italian a little bit after going to Italy for many, many years, but not very well. I wish I did, I’m not good at languages. So, that’s just the fact of the matter and I don’t like speaking it so badly that people look at you and wince. (laughs) Even Italians who are the
kindest, most forgiving people in the world look
at me sometimes like they might just have to throw up. They’re trying so hard to
see what it is I’m saying. And then, sometimes you’d end up saying really unfortunate things by mistake. Like once, I can’t remember if it was me, “No stop,” JoAnn says. Okay, any other questions? (laughs) I could tell you many
stories, but other questions? Yeah, there’s somebody up in the back. – [Woman] Thanks for
your great reading, Jim. – Thank you. – [Woman] Your work amazes
me especially the poems that you wrote about your
mother and her passing. And, I’m wondering how
did you get in that space where you could put words to it? – That’s a good question. I really feel like you’re
given certain topics if you’re a poet depending
on a ton of different things your age, your race, your
I don’t know, whatever, things that are given to
you that you feel are yours. And, for some reason,
and I don’t know why, my mother has always
been that person for me. My very first book I had
several poems to her. Even this week I’m writing
poems that are about her. So, it’s not like how
do I get into the space but it’s more like how can
I get away from this space? But, I know whenever she answers a poem that something important is happening. And so, I let her in, you know. I really can’t explain it. I’m sure a therapist would
have fun talking about it. In fact, one has had fun talking about it. (laughs) But, it’s just I can’t stay away from it and a few other things like that, but she’s probably the singular thing that most calls me back in poetry, yeah. – [Man] Is there any time of day that you’re more productive? – Well early morning
tends to work the best. But, depending on my schedule
and what else I’m doing I can really write any time of day. I’d say I tend to do
more revision type work in the afternoon. I don’t work in the evening
very much, so morning, yeah. Yeah (laughs) yeah. How’d you like having
that dog in the poem? – [Woman] Yeah, always love that. I’m curious to know how your poems differ or your inspiration
differs when you’re here in Minneapolis versus
when you’re in Spoleto. – That’s a very good question, a very good question. I don’t know if I can really answer it. I write everywhere, wherever I am. But, when I’m in Italy I feel like there’s less interference, fewer things getting in the way between myself and the writing. And, there’s something
about being surrounded by a culture which is so ancient, and so many people have died. I mean, every street you walk down there’s a memorial to somebody. And, you just after a
while, it’s like I wrote in that one poem which I wrote in Italy, “Get over yourself.” It’s sort of like there’s
a depth and a resonance. And then, there’s just
beauty, raw, unfiltered, amazing, challenging, beauty. What do you do with it if
you’re a Scottish, Irish, English guy like me? What do you do with
walking down the street and seeing all of this redolent world? It effected me that way
the first time I went and it still effects me that way. So, I feel kind of humble there in a way and a little lonely sometimes, but in a deeper way very happy. It’s also a good place
for me to revise poems ’cause I get quieter there and more able, I’m able to go deeper, I think. So, I think those are
some of the things, yeah. Oh, we’re not gonna stop now. – That’s good. (laughs) – Thank you very much, I appreciate it. (crowd applauds) – Thank you Jim, so much, for the beauty of your words in the English language which you do not mangle and for making the grief
of our world more bearable. It is such an honor and a privilege for us at the Friends of the Libraries to have you here as a
speaker, so thank you so much. I felt, while I was listening to him that I was further into happiness
than I could stand to go, so there you go. (laughs) My name’s Margaret
Telfer and I’m the chair of the board of the Friends
of the University Libraries which is a great organization. And, as Wendy said, you should be a member because we have wonderful
events like this all year long. Our final event of this
season, of the Friends Forum will be our annual celebration. And, our guest there
will be David Ferriero who is the 10th United States Archivist. And, he’s responsible
for preserving everything from the Declaration of
Independence to someone’s tweets and all the Presidential Libraries. (laughs) It will be a wonderful
program, which we always have. It’s a great dinner as
well over at McNamera Hall. And, as always, at
Friends events you’ll have memorable conversations
with the interesting people who show up. So, please become a Friend
and come to our events. We’d love to have you there. Please join us, there are
refreshments in the atrium. Jim’s books are available for purchase and he’ll be signing them. And Jim, if you wanna go out now before you get caught by the crowd. (laughs) ‘Cause everyone here wants to hug you. (laughs) – [Jim] I’m alone again. (laughs) – Jim, alone again, on the road again. (laughs) I’d go to the table, thanks. (laughs) I see lots of wonderful poets here so you guys all know the drill. Thank you so much for coming. (crowd applauds)

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