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I spent the better part of this year working on books of/about poetry.

As publisher:
Another Spring collected poems by Robin Matthews
“The Holiness of the Real” The Short Verse of Kenneth Rexroth by Donald Gutierrez
As designer/editor:
The Wind Waits For Me The Art and Poetry of Van Dorn Hooker, III

This last one primarily involved assembling Van’s portfolio of visual art, but his poems and thoughts – for the most part handwritten or pecked out on an old typewriter – became a significant element of the book, and an essential point of reference for me as I tried to pull it all together.

Robin’s collection, in which the poems leap back in time to the cultural revolution of the 1970s, and then continue moving back through the author’s past – his stint as a draftee in the Viet Nam War, his boyhood in a rural America that transforms around him into suburban sprawl – feels still immediate and meaningful. The human heart, and human society, change little over a few decades – or over centuries or millennia, for that matter. The proof is in the art.

Don’s book truly put me through my paces. Besides needing to get a grip on the technical elements of his scholarly work, the subtleties of his analysis, and a working knowledge of his subject, Kenneth Rexroth, I had to overcome a certain feminist hostility to the academic ivory tower in which such a volume is produced. “It must be nice,” I would mutter, sorting out the punctuation, notes and quotes. But I was kind of getting into Rexroth and Don’s biographical and literary insights into the poet and his work. Rexroth himself was a self-made scholar who despised academia. And “Professor” Donald Gutierrez was the opposite of elitist. He believed in art, in poetry in particular, and in its power over hearts and minds, and thus over the world. In one memorable passage, he describes the tormented poet persisting at his trade late into the night, composing a poem that combines the basest and loftiest human impulses into a single poignant thought. Don didn’t think of himself as an authority on poetry, but as its champion. I wonder if he realized how much his own poetic nature informed that which he admired.

Nocturnal Soul

The night was so near
across the sill of the open window
a mere screen thinly protecting
me from the wild
from the falling in of stars
from the dark
from the night
The night crept in even so
skirted the edges of glows
ghostly stalked walls
ceiling and all the floors
creeping under furniture
curling up along shadowy corners
collecting in the chambers
built to hold it at bay
I stood at the window
The night flowed through the screen
and over me like water
or ants
and I felt a corresponding tug
an undertow
drawing me the opposite way
The night was so very near
just that side of a low sill
not much higher than my knees
Oh to remove the screen and… go
Oh to surrender to the siren moon
who sings
Step through, my love
bring me your nocturnal soul

The night was meanwhile
decanting itself into my room
filling every space with dark
even the lit places
I shivered as I closed the window
the shade and the curtain
I laid down
I dreamed
I only pretend to live by day

                       –Zelda Leah Gatuskin, 7/6/14 ©

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