In the summer of 2012 the Dutch composer
Walter Hekster and his wife Alice van Leuvan Hekster who had been a fellow
classmate of my wife, Jean, and me at Meriden (CT) High School, class of 1952,
came to visit us in Dresden Mills, Maine, from their summer home in Higganum,
Connecticut. The four of us had a fine time, but Walter began to feel under the
their visit we were all supposed to attend our M.H.S. 60th class reunion, but
when Jean and I arrived we discovered that Walter had returned to The
Netherlands to see his doctors because he felt so ill.
I was in touch with Alice all fall, keeping tabs on
Walter -- for whom I had on several occasions been librettist, so we had been
expecting the sorry news of his passing. When I sent our condolences to Alice
she replied, “Oh Lew, thanks. You know how sick Walt was, and it just got
worse. I was with him and his Light just went out on New Years Eve.”
On Feb 8, 2013, Alice wrote, “We are going
to put Walt's ashes into the harbor here on Sunday the 17th (his wish)…. My
Auntie Margy is coming and I hope Marie [Delemarre Ho, also a classmate]. One
of my friends wrote a poem for the occasion, in Dutch. Could you?
Margy and Marie came [from the U. S.] yesterday! I can't believe it. Marie and
Margy and I loved it [the epitaph]! It was a beautiful day and a swan came by
with signets and got covered with Walt's ash.
This is the playlet I wrote that was
first published in Polemic of Western
Reserve University (now Case-Western Reserve of Cleveland, OH) Vol. XI, No. 1,
Winter, 1966; it was used as the libretto for The Fog: Chamber Opera in One Act
commissioned by the Twents Conservatorium, Enschede, Holland; music by Walter
Hekster, libretto by Lewis Turco, Amsterdam: Donemus, 1987. Folio, paper.
FOG: A CHAMBER OPERA IN ONE ACT
personae: Character A, Character B, and a Voice.
lights down, curtain up.
A bare stage. Two figures are seen standing center stage. It is difficult to
make out whether the figures are male or female, for a thick mist rolls in from
both stage right and stage left. One of the figures speaks.
Aren’t we supposed to get somewhere sometime? When are we going to get there?
It’s too soon to tell. Not enough time has passed.
(it is big and resonant). You’re almost there now. Don’t give up. You’ve almost
Who was that? What was that voice?
That was some Being who watches over us. I think it was God.
What kind of Being? It’s hard to make out any shape in this fog. I can heardly
see you, let alone a Voice. You look as though your body is made of shadow.
It’s possible I’m not even here. You could be talking to yourself. On the other
hand, perhaps I’m here and you’re not. Maybe the mist is a mirror.
I’ve thought of that. I’ve given that very thing a good deal of reflection as
we’ve been going along. But I can hear you breathing. Are you making this mist
with your breath? If so, I wish you’d cut it out so I can see God. I’d like to
find out who it is that’s talking to us.
We’re talking to each other. There’s no one else on this road.
But I think I heard a third voice. It came from somewhere overhead, I think.
Pay no attention. Just keep going.
The voice gave me courage. I’d like to hear it again.
What’s wrong with my voice? Isn’t the sound I make enough for you?
Yes.... No. That is, maybe. But what if it’s not your voice? What if it’s just
Then it’s an echo. It’s you giving yourself courage. So what? Isn’t that
I don’t think so. I don’t want to be alone with myself in all this fog. It’s a
frightening thing to think that I have to make it on my own. I don’t think I
could do it.
Where is it you think you’re going? Do you have a map?
No, and that’s why it’s frightening. I don’t trust my sense of direction.
There doesn’t seem to be any direction out here. Every way looks like every
That’s the other thing that’s bothering me. Even if I could trust my sense of
direction, I couldn’t trust the directions themselves.
Then why bother worrying? Just keep going. Follow me and don’t look back.
That’s the third thing. If I follow you, who am I following? And why should I
trust you any more than I trust myself? You might even be myself — we’ve been
all over that. I’d rather follow God. Maybe He can see better from up there — I
wish He’d speak again.
Keep going. You’re almost there.
There! There He is again. Let’s go.
Lead the way. I’m right behind you.
I thought I was following you! I thought you knew the way.
You’re leading now. I didn’t hear Him.
That’s very strange. His voice was clear as a bell.
He must have been talking to you alone. You’re in charge now. Which way?
The way we’re going must be right. He said we were almost there.
We’ve been standing still. We haven’t moved an inch.
That’s the fourth thing. The fog seems to be getting thicker. We’d better hold
hands so we don’t get lost. It would be death to be separated.
Now I’m beginning to be frightened. Here’s my hand.
Something solid at last! You’re not just my reflection after all.
Perhaps not. Anything is possible.
We still haven’t moved. Do you suppose we should try?
bell begins to ring offstage, and it continues to ring throughout the next
I was wondering when you’d get here. How do you do? I’m very happy to meet you
both. This is it. This is the end in view. (The bell stops ringing.)
Did you hear something just then? I thought I heard a bell ringing in the fog.
It was the wind, I think. Perhaps the mist is lifting a little.
Maybe so. Let’s wait here a little while and see if it clears up.
All right. I can wait.
figures stand together in the fog. A bell-buoy begins ringing somewhere
offstage and continues to ring for a while after all stage lights fade out and
all house lights down and out. Curtain.
Wesli Court’s Epitaphs for the Poets, Baltimore, MD: BrickHouse Books, 2012, 85 pp., trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1-938144-01-1, $15.00. Order from Amazon.com: Epitaphs for the Poets
As reverent as it is irreverent, this charming cycle of poems brings dead poets to life and life to dead poets. Here is a guild of the centuries, by no means a “tradition,” but a bond, rather — unbroken and ongoing — among brother and sister practitioners of an art that has always spoken life to death. — Albert J. von Frank, co-editor, the Harvard Variorum Edition of The Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
R.I.P. LEWIS TURCO May 2, 1934 –
Here lies at last and out of work, The syllabubble wordsmith Turk Who finds he cannot now resort For rime to his sidekick Wesli Court.
On February 3, 2012, I received an email message from Paul Rickert saying that the poet Dugan Gilman had died in Syracuse at the age of sixty-six. His younger brother, Kevin, had been one of my poetry writing students in the early 1970s while I was teaching at the State University of New York College at Oswego, about forty-five miles north of Syracuse, on Lake Ontario. When he was my student Kevin told me that his older brother was a poet, and that he had decided to take my classes because Dugan had suggested he do so.
After his graduation Kevin Gilman became a Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company executive, not a poet, but he stayed in town. I had, and still have, a Northwestern account, and I saw him often until he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 58 on December 17, 2009. For twenty-two years at Midsummer Kevin had hosted a “Longest Day of the Year Party” where family and friends gathered from across the country and the globe; it was there that I first met his sister Teresa who is also a poet.
Paul Rickert in his email elaborated a bit. He wrote that Dugan “was quite eccentric, lived outdoors and homeless many years, then settled into a house purchased by his siblings [for Dugan to live in] in the Westcott Street area where he lived as a hermit.”
Kevin told me that Dugan lived in a tent in the woods while he was homeless, and that he “lived off road kill,” which astonished and appalled me. Eventually Dugan moved into his sister Niki's home to live a solitary life in the basement, but when Wesleyan University Press in 1971 published his first and only book, Upstate, in its prestigious series, Dugan had not yet, so far as I know, shown symptoms of his impending eccentricity. However, the crop of young poets, of whom Dugan was one back in those early ‘seventies, had learned from Robert Bly how to distort reality; they were known as “deep image surrealists.”
In 1958 Robert Bly had founded an extremely influential literary magazine that inaugurated the capitulation of the teaching Academic Poets to political correctness and anti-formalism. Bly’s periodical was originally titled The Fifties, then The Sixties, and, briefly, The Seventies, together with his press of the same names. In his periodical and in the books that he issued from his press, no less than in his own work, Bly began to press two ideas. The first was that, in order to write quintessentially "American" poetry one had, quixotically and paradoxically, to study the work of the Chilean Marxist poet Pablo Neruda and the Scandinavians, including Gunnar Ekelof and Thomas Tranströmer, all of whom Bly was translating.
Bly's second idea was that poets needed to get in touch with their basic natures somehow, needed to reach down into their ids to pull up and bring to light the primal urges of the brute and somehow reconcile them with their conscious existence. The way to do this was to utilize what has come to be called the "underground" or "deep” image, a term coined by Amiri Baraka, but an idea Bly derived from Theodore Roethke whose method it was to walk the edge of madness deliberately, not falling over into insanity nor, on the other hand, giving in to the logical mind. It was the poet's job to bring from the side of the unconscious those images that would enable humankind to face and understand itself. These images would, of course, be distortions of "reality" as the conscious mind perceived it; therefore, "deep imagism" was a type of literary surrealism.
Bly pressed ahead with his theories, and soon he had a great many converts. One of the most beautifully lyric academic poets of the period, James Wright, joined the ranks of the Deep Imagists. Wright went on to gather an excellent reputation as a poet for, though much lyricism was lost in his switch to the ranks of Blymagism, his talent was large enough to bridge the gap. However, Bly's major convert, perhaps, was James Dickey, although their association was short-lived.
It was Dugan Gilman who, when he came to visit me once in Oswego, coined a term to describe the Deep Imagism which had enveloped the college graduate writing workshops, of which there began to be a great many throughout America during the late 1960s and the 1970s. Gilman, who had been one of those young poets enveloped by the movement, called it the "Pink Fog."
During this period many formal poets were persuaded to the view that formalism was no longer relevant to the times, which were becoming oriented to social activism, reform and to “self-expression”; i.e., egopoetry and “confession.” Unlike every other art taught in the academy, poetry became the stepchild of "intuition." If young people wanted to find out consciously what they were actually doing with pen, muse, and paper, they were no longer going to discover it in the classroom; no, it had to be learned privately, on one's own in the silent hours, an activity I was able to foster in 1968 by publishing The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, a book that Kevin was using in class around that time, and with which Dugan clearly was familiar because many years later another Syracusan, Paul Harvey, wrote to tell me about his experience using The Book of Forms:
“The Book of Forms has brought immeasurable pleasure to me (and my children who also use it) over the years,” Harvey wrote. “Introduced to it by a local poet and an old friend here in Syracuse, Dugan Gilman, it has given me the structure over the years to write much more pleasing and, I think, effective poetry. Once [I was] a proponent of free verse…until Dugan convinced me that I needed discipline and structure and gifted me with a tattered copy of [the] book.
“Now on my third copy, and having bought several more as gifts, I still find regular pleasure in using it. In fact, I am currently writing a book of poems for my daughter who turns forty in February. It will contain many different poems in many varied forms (hell, I may even include a free verse here and there).
“An attendant pleasure was the respect the book gave me for the poets of the ages. I found myself appreciating and even memorizing many of my favorites.”
Dugan Gilman had come to visit me at home in Oswego after his first book of poems had been published and gotten good reviews. Arriving with a new manuscript, he told me that he had written his first collection by osmosis, picking up out of the air the neo-surrealism that hung like a "pink fog" over the campuses. Now, he said, he wanted to learn how to write well.
I read his ms., which was full of formal verses, and I had to tell him I felt he had a long way to go before he could handle meters and rhymes and such bugbears with seeming ease — with artfulness. He had, I said, gone about the whole thing backwards: He had written a successful book of poetry before he had learned how to write. He had imitated a popular period style and gotten away with it, but if he wished to grow he would have to put his mind to it. I'm afraid he was considerably disillusioned, but it was the truth. He had two choices: He could go on imitating the poems he had written and their models, or he could learn how to write anything he wanted to write. I don’t know how successful he was, for he never published another volume.
A memorial service for Dugan Gilman will be held from 5:00-7:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 9th, at Burns-Garfield Funeral Home, 3175 East Genesee Street, Syracuse, New York, 13224, (315) 446-2466.
HERBERT R. COURSEN, JR., March 28, 1932 – December 3, 2011
Harry Osgood, Herb Coursen, and Lew Turco at the New England Poets Conference at Harvard University, 1985.
Last evening, Wednesday, January 18, 2012, very belatedly I learned of the death of Herbert R. Coursen, Jr., whom I met forty-four years ago here in Maine, at a 1968 Bowdoin College conference on “stylistics.” It was the same year that the first edition of my volume titled The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics was published — Herb would become one of its first and biggest fans.
Herb died at the age of 79 in bed, in his sleep apparently and enviably, on Saturday, December 3rd, 2011. I hope that he had received and seen his contributor’s copy of the revised and expanded edition of The Book of Forms, Including Odd and Invented Forms, which included four of his poems, “National Pastime,” in my opinion the greatest poem about baseball ever written; “The King of Kolchis,” written in a form he invented called the “once” (pronounced “on-say”), “St. John of the Cross,” written in the Spanish form called the “lira,” invented by the title poet, and “Winter Dreams,” written in another form Coursen invented, the dagwood.
On more than one occasion I have written about Herb: I penned the "Introduction" to his book of poems titled Hope Farm (Stratford CT: Cider Mill Press, 1979), and I wrote a lead essay, "The Protean Poetry of Herbert Coursen," published in The Hollins Critic, xxxii:3, June 1995, pp. 1-11.
Herb was a dear old friend, as was Pamela Mount, his companion of two decades, who died last year. My wife Jean and I miss them deeply. I will post “The Protean Poetry of Herbert Coursen” on my blog titled “Odd and Invented Forms” today.
Wesli Court Self-Interview Wesli Court is interviewed by Lewis Turco about his new collection titled The Gathering of the Elders and Other Poems.
Traveler's Moon Photograph by Adel Gorgy
Three Poems “Domestic Duties Scorecard,” “Leftover Shakespearean Gnomes,” "Tsunami Strait."
The Virginia Quarterly Review "The Mutable Past," a memoir collected in FANTASEERS, A BOOK OF MEMORIES by Lewis Turco of growing up in the 1950s in Meriden, Connecticut, (Scotsdale AZ: Star Cloud Press, 2005).
The Tower Journal Two short stories, "The Demon in the Tree" and "The Substitute Wife," in the spring 2009 issue of Tower Journal.
The Tower Journal Memoir, “Pookah, The Greatest Cat in the History of the World,” Spring-Summer 2010.
The Michigan Quarterly Review This is the first terzanelle ever published, in "The Michigan Quarterly Review" in 1965. It has been gathered in THE COLLECTED LYRICS OF LEWIS TURCO/WESLI COURT, 1953-2004 (www.StarCloudPress.com).
The Gawain Poet An essay on the putative medieval author of "Gawain and the Green Knight" in the summer 2010 issue of Per Contra.
Fenn College - School of Arts & Sciences Lewis Turco's first creative writing class, with Loring Williams (left) and James L. Weil (right): the beginning of The Cleveland State University Poetry Center