January 16, 2013
An Interview with Buddhist Poet Dick Allen
Can you share with us one of your favorite poems you've written? Thank you for asking. Here’s one of my favorite poems, first published in the small magazine Free Lunch. I like it both for its quietness and its casualness/causality:
Because a Blue Heron Flew Overhead
Because a blue heron flew overhead,
It was a good day to butter bread,
To listen to James Taylor, Stockbridge to Boston,
And visit the Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician.
A good day to ask a clock what makes it tick,
Or place one brick upon another brick,
To remember that if you think, there are ripples,
But also if you don’t think, there are ripples.
And because a blue heron flew overhead,
We swept up the porch, we made up the bed.
We bought packaged shirts, then took out their pins.
We placed gray umbrellas in clear storage bins.
There was a road, a lake, a moonlit field,
A brow to be soothed, a wound to be healed.
Stockbridge to Boston. Sweet Baby James.
The glory, the wonder, the sheer joy of names!
And my life was a story of thread and unthread
Because a blue heron flew overhead.
What's the most "poetic" thing that's ever happened to you in your life? (Feel free to answer, if you wish, in a poem.) “Poetic”? I’m betting you probably mean a traditional definition of “poetic,” which would likely entail things like “mysterious, romantic, ethereal, lovely.” Good question, and one I’ve never thought of before. But now that I have, I’m finding my mind going to a winter night in the Adirondack Mountains, in 1960. My future wife, Lori Negridge, and I were staying with my parents in their mountain cabin. Foolishly, we’d gone there just before an ice storm. Luckily, the wood stove worked.
That night, the ice storm had left the poplars and birches and maples and particularly the white pines surrounding us covered with ice crystals. Lori and I walked, under a full moon, down a dirt road to Sacandaga Reservoir. A slight wind made the branches sound like millions of crystal glasses ringing against each other. And everything around us and about us shimmered and sparkled. It was incredibly beautiful and “poetic.”
I can’t really describe it adequately in prose. But many years later, I finally wrote a poem using that night and trying to combine—as I often attempt to do in my poetry—contemporary physics, traditional nature imagery, and religious realizations. The poem’s called “Rime Forest.” It first appeared in American Arts Quarterly and was reprinted in one of my collections from Sarabande Books, The Day Before: New Poems:
That beauty near-death voyagers describe,
returned to their bodies with heart thumps,
or try to describe before they realize words
are to the eternal as the dark is to a lamp,
might be close to this, as if we’ve entered
a mile long hologram of spiral nebulae
or the neuro-networks of a frozen brain,
everything glazed and glistening, clarified
in a silence of hanging windchimes, even the smallest
twig an icy capillary, every millet blade
diamond-spined. Walk for a moment
over the snow crust and the sound is stiff brocade,
the feeling slight gliding. Every reflection
seems a further facet of a farther star,
and at the nexus of white galaxies,
synaptic leapings in the sycamore,
ski trails down a broken milkweed pod,
a crystal river through the interstice
of two larch boughs. Every branch and needle
backlit by each other, Victorian lace,
chandelier pinecones, the last jet vapor trails
criss-crossed in a fallen maple leaf.
Breathe slowly, look long, In only hours
bedraggled life will reassert itself
and shaking melted colors from the sun,
tend onwards as dawn. In a day or less,
mud and rocks and damaged undergrowth,
the basal rosettes of the winter cress.
—Alex Caring-Lobel and Emma Varvaloucas
Read another one of Dick Allen’s wintry poems, “After a heavy, clinging snow,” here.