Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A docent’s tour of my poetry, Part 1
I sent the following out to a few friends in Dec, 2002, so imagine it’s a cold winter night...
Deer Wunz,

Writing has a certain archaeological component to it. If you're like me -- somewhere between a caveman and a computer nerd -- insisting on partaking of the sensuality of writing, you always face the archaeological task of recovering your writings from notebooks (or the occasional paper napkin, scrap of paper, or inside of some book cover). The historical ages are piling up over my recent writing, and alas, I have withheld from you the deep pleasures of piecing together my shards and broken words.

In consideration of that, I thought you might like to read this retrospective, really a little help file for the uninitiated who wander into my website. It might provide a context for the strange things that I occasionally intrude you with (I doubt you'll find that usage in the OED). So, settle back with your sauterne or your port, and a fire crackling in the old wood stove, and mosey down a crooked path.

May the new year bring you all the good things you hope for, and none of the troubled things you hope for.

Where to begin with my writing?

The texts available on my website, shivvetee.com, span over 25 years of writing. They document the long evolution of my thinking. I would guess that the earlier pieces are more accessible than the later poetry, since my poetry was visioned step by step, with each succeeding piece built on earlier concepts and explorations.

Ottoman Beachcombings is a prose work, easy to read. It is a travelogue of my live adventures, beginning in the former Yugoslavia, and proceeding around the eastern Mediterranean. Mostly, it describes scenes far from the beaten tourist paths, at a time (the early 1980's) when travel in this region was safe, easy, and cheap. I was in high spirits on this five month trip, and my tales are told with wide eyes and many a grin.

The only other prose writing in the Shivvetee Reading Room is a slightly more challenging piece. My wife and I spent two months in Turkey in 1977. She was doing groundwork for her graduate degree in Islamic Art History, and I was her mostly-fearless travel guide, and occasional nemesis. In 1977 Turkey was still off the edge of the world for most Western travelers. Like the Bible-belt of the US, the interior of Turkey was, and is, deeply devout, but of course, it is Muslim, not Christian. I had never really come across religious fundamentalism before, so what I found in Turkey was fascinating, but hard to understand. My story, A Pilgrimmage to Mecca is an attempt to explore the issues of faith, experience, and scepticism, without committing to any position. It is written in a style I would liken to Gerard de Nerval's: lush and personal. I have deeply religious friends who have criticized the piece for falling clearly to the sceptic's side. Other friends, who are rationalists, have criticized it for falling clearly to the religious side. From that I have concluded that I have done my job well. I believe it's a memorable story.

For the fearless, my poetry is meant to take you on a journey that will reshape your world-view. It is not light reading, but I certainly hope it is not oppressive or ponderous either. My early teachers and guides were Shelley, Blake, Milton, Nietzsche, and the Prophetic Writings of the Hebrew Bible. I have learned from, and loved Greek and Sumerian literature, and Dante, as well. Further down the road I found new life and awe in the writings of Chaim Bialik, John Neihardt and Fred Turner. As for Pound and Eliot, may they rot in oblivion.

In the Harvest ov Nations is a narrative poem in three books, about a nuclear war and the building of a new society. Book One is named Old Wirld; Book Two is Passij; and Book Three is Nu Wirld. As you can see from these subtitles, I have already embarked on my journey of transforming English (for more on that subject, see my little essay, "Wy I Rite So Funnee"). I confess with some happiness, that upon preparing this poem for the Shivvetee Reading Room, I reread it for the first time in many years, and it brought me great pleasure and amazement. I hope it does the same for you.

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