One evening I heard William Stafford counsel poet Robert Bly. Robert
“wasn’t sure if (his) poem was any good” and was about to begin reading
when Stafford gently tapped him on the arm and interjected “Robert, if
you don’t know your poem is good, who will?” I put my older work away
and wrote the opening poem of my first book, Slender Arrow.
I was on a personal journey and the poems needed to be in the voice I
was “slowly learning as my own” as Mary Oliver wrote. My journey was
one of personal loss, of “entering the part of the forest that was
darkest to me” as Joseph Campbell described it, and demanded a poetic
form that best transcribed my experience and understanding.
Slender Arrow was published in 1998 while the second volume, Out from
Under was gathering form. As Slender Arrow was a journal of katabasis,
of descent into an unknown landscape, Out from Under was a narrative
from that landscape, of people and experiences on the margins of a
culture which ignores soul and its deepest needs.
Hawk Cry High
I wasn’t writing about something outside of me but more so within,
founded in the experiences I discovered as I “followed the thread.”
Following this map took my life and nothing less. And yet even after
Out from Under was published I felt a sense of incompleteness. I was
invited to do readings in various settings, which were thankfully well
received, but I hadn’t found the place in me that would come to peace
with the work. I knew the individual poems were “good”, they were mine
after all and I loved them, but there was a nagging hunger that the
first two books fed more than assuaged.
Walking a Pacific beach at dusk with my wife Linda, I noted in the
growing dark a set of elk prints. There were a set of prints in the
direction of the ocean where the salt water met a fresh water stream
from the nearby Coast range, and another set retuing back to a dark
break in the brush and forest beyond the highest point of the tides. In
the morning I wrote a poem about this mystery and the third book was
What I didn’t know was the relation of these books, what they were
forming together, a cohesive narrative of a journey, of descent, a
departure from all that I loved, to an unknown landscape, and a return,
in The Living Dark, to my family, my tribe, with the “gold” of what I
had learned and come to love.
A demand for personal notoriety permeates our present culture. However,
I don’t write this for myself, but for my “people” and the generations
to come. The work of personal refinement, of building the inner
structures of understanding and compassion, are the work of any man or
woman that embarks on the journey of genuine maturity, the adventure of
life that never really ends.
Down this Street, this Day