Dear Winn – 6 February 2016

Dear Winn:
I think you know this, but sometimes its good to be clear. This is letter writing between friends, not a ping-pong game, so I don’t have to wait for you to hit the ball back before I return, the same goes for you. Capiche?
An old high school friend of mine died the other day. I say friend, we were really simply classmates. Then again, she may have considered me someone dear, its hard to know. As a shy, pencil-thin teenage boy I thought she was absolutely gorgeous. She was smart, funny, incredibly likable, plus she had the legs of a tennis player. Dear lord she was gorgeous. I wrote a poem about her, described her as “wild like sage.” That’s how I saw her in those days. I posted the poem online and some people thought I wrote it as a eulogy. The fact is I wrote that poem almost three years ago. I tried to remember what prompted me to think of her back then, but I can’t place anything specific. The mind is strange, isn’t it? The poem does work that way, but it was written long before she died. Maybe those are the best kinds of eulogies, the ones with blood still in ’em.
You know, people have labeled old Kooser as an elegist. I like that very much. I wouldn’t mind people saying that about me one of these days. I think I may have told you, I was in Nebraska last year, speaking at a conference, and I emailed Kooser and asked if I could buy him lunch and visit for a few moments one day. He graciously accepted my invitation, even suggested a quaint spot known for good pie where we could meet. I was so looking forward to that, then he wrote to say a book signing was scheduled for him on that same day, and unfortunately he would have to decline our lunch.  I was deeply disappointed. I wasn’t hoping for some Damascus minute with him, when just before taking a bite of pie he looked at me and descaled said, “I want you to keep the work of elegy going when I’m gone. Its important, John. Here, take my favorite fountain pen, and use it from now on in all your writings.” No, nothing like that (although that woulda been grand, huh?). No, I simply desired to be in the presence of someone who sees things sorta like I do. That’s not so much to ask, is it? I’m all for big rooms full of people with diverse viewpoints coming together to hash things out. I’m also quite fond of a booth with just one other person of similar eyesight, one who listens and softly says, “I feel that same way.” I get easily lost in some of those big rooms, always have.
Alright, enough for today. But not without two last things from Hugo. You’re getting a little Richard Hugo education via me, aren’t you? Don’t worry, no charge, pal. What are friends for? I did find out his coarse grandmother made him go to church (Lutheran). He hated it, always, couldn’t wait to run free from the old wooden building as soon as services were over. Get this, he was the only boy in his confirmation class, and to read his recounting of it, he just sat there and looked at the floor. Sadly, no gorgeous girls with tennis player legs to liven up the conformacion. But he wrote this in The Real West Marginal Way (a little long but very worthy):
A long time back, maybe twenty-five years ago, a reviewer in the Hudson Review ridiculed William Carlos Williams for saying that one reason a poet wrote was to become a better person. I was fresh out of graduate school, or maybe still there, filled with the New Criticism, and I sided with the reviewer. But Williams was right and I know now what he was talking about. It wasn’t some theory of writing as therapy, nor the naive notion that after writing a poem one is any less depraved. It was the certainty that writing is a slow, cumulative way of accepting your life as valid, of accepting yourself over a lifetime, of realizing that your life is important. And it is. It’s all you’ve got. All you ever had for sure.
I know you’ll stand before your friends tomorrow, and share the gospel according to Winn. I’ll pray for you as you do, that the time would be rich with elegy, and wild as a young girl’s legs. But I know, lord I know, that’s not always the case, huh? Still, I’ll pray for you. I believe we pray to become better people. I really do.

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  1. The Keeper of me on February 6, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    I feel like I am intruding on such intimacy among’st friends, men for whom the road less traveled breathes life into their souls. It thrills me actually to be a participant with my eyes, the thoughts from a poets heart. I wish to say please don’t stop sharing something so rare, as my soul is starving for this. I am a woman who has long lived and loved a man of few words. I imagine I am not alone in that journey. I wish we women with a hunger for words, might circle the poets and absorb the wild raw expression of a “Damascus minute.” I think that is something we all long for.
    The “glory days” of words with a boy/man searching for a home.
    BTW Your friend sounded amazing and I am sure she would be honored to be at the receiving end of your pen.
    Thanks for the words

    • thebeautifuldue on February 6, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      Thank you, Lynn. Winn and I are thankful if some of what is most specific rings most general, and it sounds like some it does. My friend fought a lot of demons…yes, I thought she was amazing. Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Marilyn on February 10, 2016 at 11:54 am

    “William Carlos Williams…one reason a poet wrote was to become a better person…Williams was right….I know now what he was talking about…writing is a slow, cumulative way of accepting your life as valid, of accepting yourself over a lifetime, of realizing that your life is important.”

    I read that paragraph three times, then cut-and-pasted it here. Guess that says how it hit me. Thanks for that, John.

    • Marilyn on February 10, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      But the part about trying to meet up with Kooser and your imaginings about that and your preferring the booth to the big room hit even harder, so much so that I couldn’t begin to know how to mention it in a comment, so I haven’t.

  3. Dolly @ Soul Stops on March 2, 2016 at 2:44 am

    I see Marilyn mentioned the part that struck me, too: “It was the certainty that writing is a slow, cumulative way of accepting your life as valid, of accepting yourself over a lifetime, of realizing that your life is important. And it is. It’s all you’ve got. All you ever had for sure.”

    Thank you 🙂

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