Tag Archives: death

Remembering Paul

9.12.13 | | 2 comments

Paul Swenson. (Image credit)

Today is the anniversary of Paul Swenson’s birth. If my calculations are correct, he was born in 1935 and would have turned 78 this year. I’ve thought about him off and on since he passed, mostly because I know that at the time of his death he was working with Dream Garden Press to publish his second poetry collection. According to the bio note he passed along for inclusion in Fire in the Pasture the book was to be titled In Sleep and he was planning for its release in late 2011. I’m sure, among other things, his poor health pushed back the release, but his passing delayed it indefinitely. I’m not sure what’s happening with his literary estate now. But if anyone within the sound of this post does know what’s in store for the work Paul left behind (both published and unpublished), let me know. I’m interested in doing what I can to help archive, to sustain, and to promote his literary legacy. (You can contact me here.)

With that in mind, I wanted to commemorate Paul on his birthday by posting a couple clips of him reading his work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online, but I did have some stored away on a jump drive in a collection of recordings I downloaded a few years ago from Sunstone’s Symposium archive when it still contained audio from past events. The two clips I’m sharing today were snipped from a session recording made during the 1997 Sunstone Symposium held 6-9 August at the University Park Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. The session was titled “Too Much Stuff Gone Down, Baby: Performance Poets at Play” and included readings by Paul, Alex Caldiero, Lin Ostler, Stefene Russell, and Laraine Wilkins. Paul read both of the following poems near the end of his set. The first is “Strange Gods,” which was originally published in Sunstone and later appeared in Iced at the Ward, Burned at the Stake; and the second, “Nothing Has Changed Since You Left,” is, as far as I can tell, unpublished. more

In the Beginning, the End: Some Initial Thoughts on Susan Elizabeth Howe’s Salt

2.21.13 | | 4 comments

Salt Cover by Ron Stucki for Signature Books

Salt Cover by Ron Stucki for Signature Books


This past Saturday, my review copy of Susan Elizabeth Howe‘s new book, Salt, arrived. I’ll be reviewing it for AMV and expect to have my essay completed and posted sometime in the next month or two, but in the meantime I wanted to post my initial response to the collection.

While I haven’t yet read beyond the first poem, I’m anxious to sit down and keep company with Susan’s words, in part because of the first poem. As all stories arguably do, Salt‘s narrative begins with Adam and Eve—or at least with a revision thereof: his name is “Bob,” while she remains nameless. In the collection opener, “Python Killed to Save Woman,” Eve (I’ll call her) wrestles with a snake: “Lucy, / short for Lucifer,” the couple’s “pet python,” which they let “slither about [their] bedroom.” Probably not the smartest idea, as you can imagine, something Eve realizes the night she wakes because Lucy has “wrapped around [her]” like the snake would live meat. Which, of course, the woman is—at least to a hungry snake. Sensing the struggle beside him, Bob wakes and grabs his “Swiss army knife” to take care of the snake, but instead he gets “enmeshed” in the wrestling match, though not so much that he can’t grab the phone and call for help.

And that’s where this allegory of a poem leaves the pair: struggling for life in Lucifer’s tightening squeeze, Eve wondering “whose death” will come first, although the poem’s title is a clue as to who wins. Little matter, though, because in the end, of this poem as of life, death gets the last word (until Christ speaks up, that is).

Death: the heritage of a world fallen away from Paradise, the proper end of that system’s decomposition. By beginning Salt with Eden’s end, Susan reminds readers of their mortality, which was made possible by the Fall, and opens the way to explore the impact of death on life and language. Salt‘s opening poem, then, is a memento mori in a poetry collection that positions itself as a preservative—salt is, after all, essential to animal life. As such, it’s pretty valuable thing to have around. Hence Christ to his disciples: You are the salt of the earth—your presence here should preserve and thus extend the principles of Life. Hence Paul to early Christians: Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt—let your language tend toward preservation of the principles of life. Hence the implication of Susan’s title: here are some words dear to me as salt. May they preserve you as they have preserved me.

Here’s hoping.

(Cross-posted here.)