How can a book this good go unpublished?
Reading a friend’s manuscript. Our poetry group, seven of us, former and current UCSC writing profs, commenting on one another’s work… sometimes individual poems, sometimes a chapbook or book-length project.
Under discussion at this time is Charles Atkinson’s new manuscript, a portion of which he plans to enter in a chapbook contest.
Though our styles could not be more different, I feel an ever-increasing affinity with and admiration for Chuck’s craftsman-like work, his quiet humor, abiding wisdom and ability to express a wide range of emotions.
Okay. First, Chuck asks for our thoughts on a title. What Comes Next or, Bare Strand of Attention, or, The Buddha’s Inner robes, or, What All the Chatter Meant, etc., I like What Comes Next. As a title it’s understated and yet memorable, apt for the man's style and the work at hand.
I think of the scores of titles in the Books Received section of Poetry Chicago, and wonder how well one or another title of a new manuscript (What Comes Next, for example) will stand out…
In presenting his manuscript, Chuck asks about “Section sequence: does it make sense…” The copy I’m looking at has four sections, I. Nearly Human, II. Men, III. Dreamer at the Helm, and IV. Fixer-Upper.
I. Nearly Human opens with Hometown Idyll. Poem itself starts with the line “Squanto, ‘Friend of the Pilgram,’ sun-bleached colossus—twice life size…” then a poem titled “…Thy Neighbor as Thyself” about a miserable next door neighbor, and, further on “The Ego’s a Dog” (Neighbors’ chainsaw at full-throttle…”) and “Intensive Care,” two of Chuck’s poems I particularly admire.
Strong section, poems about family, three, four and five-line stanzas, many of them, formally adept, a centeredness I admire, a stateliness, and yet moving, a feel for nature this poet excels at, that... combined with interactions with family members,
“Paddles’ tandem flash in sun, staccato waves on a canvas hull, / creak and flex through chop—we’re starting to get it at last…” (Champlain Crossing, ‘for my brother’)
Something modest and clear about the man’s work and by modest I mean the poems don’t strive to be more than they are, they’re good and they’re more than sufficient, they’re enough and anyone who knows anything about poetry recognizes the fact and respects what he / she is attending to… others of us, myself included, can get noisy, banging pots and pans, so to speak, to win the reader’s attention.
Section II. opens with “Because We Are Men,” about Iraq and that’s followed by “Vets” and “Quaker Witness…” but the section goes well beyond politics…
Section III. Dreamer at the Helm has this epigraph, “When you look for God,/God is the look of your eyes,/nearer to you than yourself…” Rumi. And the ten or so pages that follow deliver on that. Sometimes I’ll read an epigraph, by Rumi, say, and that, for me, is all I need. Chuck’s work does not disappoint. That’s what I mean by “delivers…” as in “delivers the goods.” If you’re going to start with Rumi, you’re gonna have to deliver something.
Section IV. Fixer-Upper. You gotta start somewhere and Fixer-Upper is a title to engage the reader. Poems about a cycling accident, blue jays and snakes, stinkbugs and “climbers on granite…” Jehovah’s witnesses, Walker Evans, Fixer-Upper on Middle Way, and Self-Instructions—Writers Block… Breath—from the Meditation Logs.
Chuck asks that we identify what are, for us, the weaker poems, the ones we’d suggesting cutting. But what would I cut here?
What am I going to say about a 106 page manuscript that works from beginning to end? It’s all good. I’ve been following Chuck’s work since the early 90s, reading and reviewing and commenting on his poems once or twice a month.
Jesus Christ and he’s trying to put together a chapbook because it’s so fucking hard to get a full-length book published and the work is Good, 106 pages of skilled thoughtful heartful careful carefully thought out, yet inspired and left brain right brain he’s got it in balance and why in God’s name doesn’t someone publish the whole book?
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...