This is Peter Ferry's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Peter Ferry's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Peter Ferry
Recent Activity
A few years ago when I taught in The Netherlands, a metaphorical distinction between my students at home and my Dutch students took form in my mind. If my American kids waved their arms and shouted at the world, my Dutch ones in their small country of small houses, cars and portions held it in the palms of their hands examining it carefully and quietly. This came to mind recently when I was reading Michael Collier’s 2012 volume of poetry entitled An Individual History. Collier’s forbearers may have been Irish, German and French, but he himself is very Dutch. He holds each of us in the palm of his hand and gently probes us, parts our petals, lifts our scales, finds things in us we didn’t know were there. And himself. Michael Collier is often the subject of his own circumspect scrutiny. “I’m glad now I didn’t tell my mother, after the urge to do so passed, the hundredth time I throttled my teenage pecker and in despair, and only half believing I had sinned, wanted to confess.” Collier is the kid you don’t notice sitting in the corner watching, the nondescript guy across the train car, the mild mannered accountant you are surprised to learn writes poetry. In fact, lack of pretence is basic to his poetry. He is a master of detail, but his detail is taken from the most everyday corners of experience and memory: his mother’s Singer sewing machine and turquoise kitchen, his father’s arthritic knee, a swimming pool vacuum cleaner, a bad dentist, televisions, Nash Ramblers and dogs: “shoe chewers, sock swallowers, book gnawers, food gobblers; haters of sirens; noble, conscionable, unconscionable; shit eaters, butt sniffers, crotch probers, ass and ball lickers, tail chasers; farters, deep dreamers, barkers, howlers, whiners, criers, piddlers, shitters” At the funeral of a young classmate, Collier’s son apprehends the impersonality of the world in the fact that the undertaker has parted the boy’s hair differently than he did: “Why did they do that to Brendan’s hair?” In “Grandmother with Mink Stole, Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, Arizona, 1959,” he writes: “She who wore the pelt, the helmet of blue hair and came to us mint and camphor-scented, more strange than her unvisited world of trees and seasons, offering us two mouths, two sets of lips, two expressions: the large, averted one we were meant to kiss and the other small, pleading, that if we had the choice, we might choose.” As you might suspect and in fact can see, Collier is not at all afraid to be accessible. This lack of fear we might expect from a twenty year old kid who came east from Arizona looking for poets because he wanted to be one. He found William Meredith who became his mentor. So cocksure was Collier of his calling that one wonders if Meredith had any choice in the matter. It is with equal confidence that Collier asserts that in painting he prefers still lifes to abstracts, and with which... Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Nick Courtright’s poetry in his new volume Let There Be Light (Gold Wake Press, 2014) is serious stuff that refuses to take itself too seriously. It is all about discovering the light, lyrical and profound in that which is ordinary, and it is on the intersection of these three that Courtright focuses his keen eye. He says that the woman upstairs, “pounding about the floor in tune to her workout video is this close to God. I believe that, why not? Sillier things have caused enlightenment, the palm of a man on the forehead of another, the heat of holy water upon the nape of a neck, the father of a daughter realizing what he cannot control…” Courtright finds wonder in life to be sure: “Many minutes pass, and marvelous springtime eyes its own predictable mess as new life trembles beneath the wind.” But he also discovers some wonder and certainly invitation in death: “All our lives are crossing the Alps. It’s cold. It’s cliff face and sheer drop. And it’s more than possible a large cat of the wilderness, or a large dog in its pack, will prepare your pathway for you. It’ll invite you into its mouth, where it’s warm. You may be tempted to go.” There is at least reassurance in Courtright’s treatment of death and in his relentlessly personal address to the reader as if he is taking us by the elbow or maybe even the lapels. “Half the world is lost in the canyon, half of the market and of the lamplight, and half the raspy voices of children who eat stones for breakfast. Half the world is lost. Do not be worried. It was always lost.” In Courtright’s poems death can be sad and wistful but is seldom tragic; it is a fire we tease, poke at, dance about and maybe even warm ourselves beside before it consumes us. At its most threatening and insidious it diminishes the joy and beauty of life: “Why? Because apples were tributes to the seasons, carrots were tributes to the sun, almonds were tributes to the eyes of angels, and leaves were tributes to every leaf. But who left those apples long past their brilliance on this land? Who, in doing so, compromised all the world’s tributes?” Sometimes as in The Human Experience death fails at even that: “In just a few short minutes a lunar eclipse will reveal itself. From a mere two hundred twenty-one Thousand miles from earth the missing slice of the moon almost perfect, as if it were a perfect bite made by a perfect, godly mouth. This bite mark may conjure a memory of apples which could easily lead to Eden, and to depravity and desire and urges and lust, and straight back to Venus, the romantic image of utter, absolute beauty. But what is not absolute beauty? Let’s be serious.” Perhaps this is because Courtright’s voice is inclusive, philosophical, wise, balanced and always has eternity in view; indeed his viewer sees everything... Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Bob Glassman is an Evanston, Illinois, writer, editor, poet and maker of books who has written an epic prose poem called Abscission Layer that is one of the most original pieces I’ve ever read. If it recalls any other artist, it is William Blake (a Blake print appears on the title page) because it defies categorization, invents its own form, explores the unexplored and is quite literally handmade; Glassman binds and stitches each small volume with fastidious care. There are five characters in Abscission Layer. I think. They flow in and through each other mixing, melding and morphing together in ways that make us reexamine our own literary assumptions and boundaries and ultimately our own realities. The main character is the nameless narrator whose lyrical and weary voice we come to know well although we never see the person behind it. Then there is the narrator’s grandfather, an immigrant tradesman and union organizer who is a figure of pride and rectitude for whom what matters is respect, the family and “the common good,” his father, a well-known, well-traveled botanist finally reduced to helplessness and despair by age, his friend J and his lover A. What the latter four have in common is that they are all dead, that they are lost to the narrator, that they exist only in his dreams and memories: “But there was also A on the lakeshore. The titanium white impasto clouds applied to the sky with a trowel. The water as green as blue can be. Like a little child, she wanted a seashell, childlike expression near the lake, wanting a shell, disappointed, colored with a personal paint box, remembered sadly, the inability to give her what she wanted, not able to find her a seashell. Never able to give her what she wanted. Wanting to protect her from disappointment, to heal every wound for her, every past wound, every future wound, find her a shell, the innocence of a child remembered, colored with emotional paint in memory, glazed until it lives like a work of art. A golden dream interrupted again, as usual. Praying to God to allow the dream to come again. Time collapsing into a vortex, unrecognizable time like so much elapsed debris, mangled time. No peace at hand, a damaged man filling all space and time. Do you know…what it means…to be…falling? She’s falling…and…she’s in…deep danger. She’s falling and…she’s in…deep water. I’m falling…and…I can’t get up. This chicken…is…inedible.” In Glassman’s mind, words and hands, time is timeless, space is forever falling away, personality has soft margins and it is often difficult to distinguish amongst consciousness, dream and memory. Glassman deftly persuades us not to try. He asks us to surrender to the work and when we do, we enter a visionary mindscape. “Even this dream, and every dream, destroyed, vaporized by an old man missing big parts, a clock that no longer keeps time, a collision of past and future, a catastrophic collision ripping the world apart. Wanting only to dream... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
I once heard Kurt Vonnegut says a writer has to believe that what he’s writing right now is the most important thing anyone has ever written. That was hard for me in the beginning because my Presbyterian minister father taught me to be modest, humble and circumspect. At potluck suppers in the church basement, we always waited to be the very last in line. I never learned how to be important. Then I met David Lehman. In high school an English teacher told David that he was a poet, and he believed her. The day I met him he stuck his head out of his dorm room door as I was entering mine for the first time suitcases in hand and asked me, “You don’t have a copy of The Paris Review with you do you?” “What?” “The new Paris Review. I’ve got a poem in there. Hi. I’m David Lehman. I’m a poet.” I did not see a poet. I saw a gawky, pimply, eighteen year old kid with a New York accent and a Yogi Bear lilt in his voice. “Pleased to meet you,” I said. “Pete Ferry, Undersecretary of the Interior.” David didn’t seem to hear me. He shook my hand. David and I were students in a summer program at Oxford and after sharing a plane ride, had been bumming around England on our own for a few days. Oh, we had a good time with David for a couple of weeks. We (three of us had come together from Ohio and had never even been to New York - we were groped in Times Square and charged eight dollars a beer on Second Avenue - much less London) had chips on our shoulders, a bit of residual Midwestern adolescent anti-Semitism, and an absolute phobia about being ugly Americans. And now one of us was David, our worst fear, the ugliest American of all, a New York Jew. So we mocked him, imitated him, asked him stupid questions (“Do poets wear boxers or whitey-tighties?”), and it all missed him (“I don’t think it really matters. I wear briefs. Kenneth Koch wears boxers. This I happen to know because I once came home to my apartment to find him playing the violin in his boxers for a graduate student in comparative literature. She was quite beautiful.”) For a couple of weeks we huddled together talking about all the stupid things David did and said, and then he did something stupider. He challenged John Fuller to a poetry reading. We were just mortified. Fuller was one of our dons. He was young, handsome, witty, wry, bored, very British. He was also a rising star among British poets and the son of Roy Fuller who was the sitting Poet laureate of OxfordUniversity. Fuller accepted, and on a Wednesday evening after sherry and shepherd’s pie, we sat back gleefully to watch David’s vivisection. John Fuller began the evening with some nakedly deprecating remarks about his young challenger from across the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
When we were children our mother used to put us to bed at night and entertain us on long car trips with poetry. We loved ballads, and she knew a bunch of them by heart: The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and especially Kipling. My very favorite poem of his was The Ballad of East and West. And when we did the dishes after dinner, there were four positions, one for each of us: washer, dryer, putterawayer and reader. In this way we recited lots of poetry, read a good bit of Charles Dickens, and in the process learned to love the spoken word, the sound of literature. In 1960 when I was fifteen my father’s father died, and my mother and I drove my grandfather’s old ’55 Chevy home to West Virginia from Ashville, North Carolina, on windy mountain roads. It was an ordeal. My mother was a tiny woman not five feet tall and never a good driver. I kept her spirits up and her mind distracted from her fear by requesting poems, and she recited them one after another. I don’t think we exhausted her supply even on that long drive. Then in college I had a freshman speech class in which our professor talked about the oral tradition of literature that was especially strong there in the Appalachian hills. He invited us to recite any bits of poetry we might know. Someone said a limerick, someone else some Ogden Nash doggerel, then there was a song lyric and a verse or two of Robert Frost. I said the opening lines of The Ballad of East and West: Oh East is East and West is West, And never the twain shall meet, Til earth and sky stand presently At God’s great judgment Seat. But there is neither East nor West, Border nor breed nor birth When two strong men stand face to face Tho’ they come from the ends of the earth. When I stopped, the professor looked at me hopefully. “I don’t think you are finished.” “Well, I guess I know a little more.” I got through the next few lines. “Go on,” he said. And I went on. To my amazement, I knew the whole thing, all ninety-seven lines of it. If my memory serves, I’d never seen the poem on the printed page. I knew it only from hearing my mother recite it. This little story is not about my powers of memory which are quite ordinary. It is about the powers of poetry which are not. Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Peter Ferry is now following The Typepad Team
Jun 28, 2014