He was Donald Hall's good friend. That's what I carry with me when I think of poet Liam Rector, as he sat on the stage with the newly named U.S. Poet Laureate at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, nearly two years ago. (see the blog entry from November 5, 2006.) The two men shared the podium with Rector's wife Tree Swenson, and they wrestled with what it meant to have an iconic poem for a generation -- as Ginsberg's "Howl" was, and (suggested by Hall) perhaps Philip Levine's "They Feed They Lions." Rector, after visibly thinking the question over, decided his own generation did not have such iconic poems.
Now, in the moment that it takes to pull the trigger -- but really in the much longer time that it takes to understand critical and chronic illness in one's body and choose a final line for the page -- Rector is gone. Whatever afterlife there is for him, we're not sharing it yet. But we have his poetry. And a visit to the monument erected to Rector by poetry and poetics blogger Ron Silliman provides five separate and impressive links to work by and about Rector. Go visit them to savor these achievements, connections, constructions, strength.
Meanwhile I offer one small further addition to the evidence Liam Rector left behind, from the web site of the Briery Creek Press:
WINNER AND FINALISTS FOR THE LIAM RECTOR FIRST BOOK PRIZE FOR POETRY
At the inception of this competition, we wanted to provide a much-needed venue for poetry publication in an often-difficult market. More, we wanted to recognize and honor Liam Rector, a man who has dedicated his professional life to the success of American Letters. Mr. Rector has served as the executive director of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), and has also administered literary programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Academy of American Poets, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the founder and director of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Through both his own poetry and his role as arts advocate, Mr. Rector has served the American arts community tirelessly, facilitating opportunity and access for countless emerging writers. This contest, we hope, will serve as a modicum of appreciation for that work, while also continuing his legacy of creating opportunities for writers.
We thank everyone who submitted for sharing their work with us. We received a fascinating range of poetry and found the decision-making process difficult. We left this process, however, reassured that the love of reading and writing poetry is alive and well in the American market.
We're pleased to announce that our first winner is:
Leaving Iowa by Michael Meyerhofer of Carbondale, Illinois.
Mr. Meyerhofer's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Green Mountains Review, North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, and others. His chapbook, Cardboard Urn, won the Copperdome Poetry Chapbook Contest from Southeast Missouri State University. He is currently pursuing the MFA at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Of Mr. Meyerhofer's work, our final judge, Craig Challender, writes: "there's real voice here: an all-too-rare accomplishment in these days of gentrified poetry. The language here is consistently fresh--a volatile mix of humor and anger, spot-on pity and forgiveness--that gives the ears meangingful work to do."
And here, from his final collection, THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE FALLEN WORLD, are Rector's words for the approach of the end:
Now I see it: a few years
To play around while being
By the taller ones, the ones
With the money
And more muscle, however
Tender or indifferent
They might be at being
Parents; then off to school
And the years of struggle
With authority while learning
Violent gobs of things one didn't
Want to know, with a few tender
And tough teachers thrown in
Who taught what one wanted
And needed to know; then time
To go out and make one's own
Money (on the day or in
The night-shift), playing around
A little longer ("Seed-time,"
"Salad days") with some
Young "discretionary income"
Before procreation (which
Brings one quickly, too quickly,
Into play with some variation
Of settling down); then,
Most often for most, the despised
Job (though some work their way
Around this with work of real
Delight, life's work, with the deepest
Pleasures of mastery); then years
Spent, forgotten, in the middle decades
Of repair, creation, money
Gathered and spent making the family
Happen, as one's own children busily
Work their way into and through
The cycle themselves,
Comic and tragic to see, with some
Fine moments playing with them;
Then, through no inherent virtue
Of one's own, but only because
The oldest ones are busy falling
Off the edge of the planet,
The years of governing,
Of being the dreaded authority
One's self; then the recognition
(Often requiring a stiff drink) that it
Will all soon be ending for one's self,
But not before Alzheimer's comes
For some, as Alzheimer's comes
For my father-in-law now (who
Has forgotten not only who
Shakespeare is but that he taught
Shakespeare for thirty years,
And who sings and dances amidst
The forgotten in the place
To which he's been taken); then
An ever-deepening sense of time
And how the end might really happen,
To really submit, bend, and go
(Raging against that night is really
An adolescent's idiot game).
Time soon to take my place
In the long line of my ancestors
(Whose names I mostly never knew
Or have recently forgotten)
Who took their place, spirit poised
In mature humility (or as jackasses
Braying against the inevitable)
Before me, having been moved
By time through time, having done
The time and their times.
"Nearer my god to thee" I sing
On the deck of my personal Titanic,
An agnostic vessel in the mind.
Born alone, die alone—and sad, though
Vastly accompanied, to see
The sadness in the loved ones
To be left behind, and one more
Moment of wondering what,
If anything, comes next . . .
Never to have been completely
Certain what I was doing
Alive, but having stayed aloft
Amidst an almost sinister doubt.
I say to my children
Don't be afraid, be buoyed
—In its void the world is always
Falling apart, entropy its law
—I tell them those who build
And master are the ones invariably
Merry: Give and take quarter,
Create good meals within the slaughter,
A place for repose and laughter
In the consoling beds of being tender,
I tell them now, my son, my daughter.