Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Allen Grossman Has Won the Bollingen Prize


He deserves it.

I have an essay on one of his poems in this book: Poetry's Poet: Essays on the Poetry, Pedagogy, and Poetics of Allen Grossman, edited by Daniel Morris.

The new issue of Tikkun (March/April 2009) has a poem of mine which conveys a sense of what it was like to study with him. It's called "Grossman's Tooth."

He is one of two persons to whom my new book Limousine, Midnight Blue is dedicated.

He was, more or less, the model for the genius professor in The Crazed, a novel by National Book Award winner, Ha Jin. Without Grossman's personal heroism, as Ha Jin often acknowledges, he would never have left China.

Generations of us were trained by him, astonished by him. I'm only 40 now, but I was 21 when I met him and I've never met anyone like him before or since.
"He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."
And so on.

One more -- from Plato's Phaedo:
"After tomorrow, it will be difficult to find another such enchanter."

Wash Day Allen Grossman

July, 1947, Gibbon, Minn.
Soiled thoughts heap up
like rags in a basket.
Time to do a wash.
The weather's right,
bright and windy.
A quick-dry day.
First, soap. Not store-bought.
But stone-hard pig fat
and lye mixed with
oatmeal in a pail.
Then hacked with a knife
into Lux-like flakes.
Then the washer, gas-powered.
Hard to start in the
kitchen, but too heavy
to lug outside.
"Fumes!" (There's
a word for you!)
The blue-enameled kitchen
stove burns corncobs
gnawed clean by pigs.
After the pigs have done
their damnedest,
the cobs burn hot.
Water. Well-water
is real cold.
No stove, pigs or not,
is hot enough to bring
well-water to blood heat.
For that you need a heart.
In the root cellar
beneath the kitchen
potatoes sprout
dead white—
because there's
no light.
Outside, on wash day, are
two galvanized steel tubs
for rinsing in the lovely air.
Rinse Tub One: rainwater, sheer joy.
Rinse Tub Two: the blueing,
too cold to be true.
Then, everything dries on the line
in the winds of July.
What dries first?
Handkerchiefs and lady's underwear.
What dries last?
The farmer's overalls
heavy with desire.
On the bib,
where the heart beats,
his everlasting snuff tin
has inscribed an unwashable
perfect circle forever.
At noon, the naked truth descends
offering her stunning breasts.
Also here comes the prophet
Amos, with something in hand.
In fact, a basket of summer fruit.
Ch. 8, vss. 1,2. (Check it out.)

1 comment:

  1. I always check the labels first and obviously this one goes on the delicate spin cycle.


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