Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Little Anesthetic Drip

I'm turning 70 soon. It seems like only yesterday I was reconciling myself to my 65th birthday, fortunate of course to make it to both milestones, but knowing that time is steadily running out of the hourglass.  It's not as if I come from hearty stock where everyone lives healthily into their nineties and then has the good fortune of just not waking up one day.  And I've had my issues, most recently open heart surgery just last year.

The older I get the more I seem to "work" for Doctors who take charge of my body with tests, medications, procedures, just about any time they want. And I'm not in it alone: friends, some from childhood or college days, are going through the same thing, that is the ones who have made it thus far.

Speaking of college, for some reason, unknown to me now, as a student (that's my college yearbook photo to the right) I had memorized John Masefield's graceful poetic masterpiece, On Growing Old.  Masefield wrote the poem when he was only 41, as if some sudden, unexpected  poetic insight into his own future materialized.  I still know the words today.  One of our first boats was named 'Spindrift' because of a line from the first verse:

Be with me, Beauty, for the fire is dying;
My dog and I are old, too old for roving.
Man, whose young passion sets the spindrift flying,
Is soon too lame to march, too cold for loving.
I take the book and gather to the fire,
Turning old yellow leaves; minute by minute
The clock ticks to my heart. A withered wire,
Moves a thin ghost of music in the spinet.
I cannot sail your seas, I cannot wander
Your cornland, nor your hill-land, nor your valleys
Ever again, nor share the battle yonder
Where the young knight the broken squadron rallies.
Only stay quiet while my mind remembers
The beauty of fire from the beauty of embers.

Whatever compelled me to commit that to memory more than fifty years ago?  Was it a perverse acknowledgement that I too would one day be the subject of the poem although at the time I would have thought 70 an eternity away?  But the day is arriving and ironically I don't feel like that at all -- I'm not nearly ready to "gather by the fire." If anything, my mind tells me I'm a kid, defying the image in the mirror, belying the health issues.

But my literary hero, John Updike, most perceptively describes the process of aging and the collateral inevitability of one's demise in one of his last short stories, "The Full Glass." The main character is thinking about his grandfather and Updike writes: “As a child I would look at him and wonder how he could stay sane, being so close to his death.  But, actually, it turns out, Nature drips a little anesthetic into your veins each day that makes you think another day is as good as a year, and another year as long as a lifetime.  The routines of living – the tooth-brushing and pill-taking, the flossing and the water glass, the matching socks and the sorting of the laundry into the proper bureau drawers—wear you down.” 

No truer words were ever written.  So, onward into my 70's!

And Happy Holidays as celebrated in Florida.........

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Reflection Beyond His Telling

My friend, Martin Tucker, is retiring, again. I’ll let him explain this redundancy and the occasion itself in the essay he wrote, How Difficult It Is To Say Goodbye (see below), from the 107th issue of Confrontation, a literary magazine he helped to found more than 40 years ago and has edited since. How many literary magazines can boast such longevity? Martin got things done through the force of his unique personality, a scholar/poet with an easygoing persona and playful sense of humor. Simply put, he is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known, compassionate and understanding. I count him among my few, but dear, life-long friends.

He was my teacher in college and I was his enthusiastic student in the courses he taught on contemporary literature. When I graduated and began working for a publishing company in New York I asked him whether he would edit a reprint series on English Literature, selecting the titles, commissioning the introductions and soon we were no longer student/teacher, but colleagues, trying to resurrect some of the best, forgotten literature.

And, indeed, in Martin’s usual modest way explaining his own success, he gives full attribution to his contributors, the writers: “without the writer, there is no book, no theater to open its door, no newspaper to appear at a doorstep and even in an impersonal age of communication like the web of the Internet, no summary to spread wireless reverberation.” So our friendship was founded on a love of literature and over the years, we worked on a multitude of projects, including the publication of his unique reference work on expatriate writers, Literary Exile in the Twentieth Century: An Analysis and Biographical Dictionary.

I like stories of serendipity and I can tell you one involving Martin. When my first marriage was ending, I was staying with my friend Jim in his East Village pad. To put it in temporal perspective, Janis Joplin was playing at the Fillmore East. Jim had a motorcycle and we decided to go to Fire Island for an early summer weekend, hoping to find a place to stay, but prepared to deploy our sleeping bags, someplace, anyplace. I knew a young woman in my office who had a house-share there and asked whether she might be there that weekend, hoping to crash at her place. She said it was not her weekend, although she was planning to arrive on Sunday as she was staying the following week for vacation.

As it turned out, Jim and I slept on the beach on Saturday night. Before we left the next day, I walked the beach looking for that young woman, Ann, who would later become my wife. I could not find her, but I found Martin on the beach with the woman who would later become his wife! After I was remarried, we saw them frequently until, sadly, they too were divorced. But over the years Martin and I always found the time to get together, in NY, Westport, or on our boat, and finally, we both found ourselves living in Florida, he on the west coast and we on the east, with still the opportunity for occasional visits.

The tables turned when I retired, as I became a consultant for Confrontation’s book publication program. Now I worked for him! But while our relationship will no longer be one of colleagues, I look forward to years and years of continuing friendship.

Martin once wrote a poem about a student offering him a New York street pretzel while crossing the campus to a class. I’ve forgotten the words, but never the feeling of the poignant relationship between eager student and admired teacher. Poetry has its way of capturing such truths and Martin has more to write in the future. His most recent poem in Confrontation, selected by him for this, his last issue as Editor, says it all:

A Chip off a Block, by Martin Tucker

A piece of stone
I chip at
and find a face
that is my own
yet distant like an object
held in hand
at arm’s length
telling me
to look.
but I cannot see
till the shape
overtakes me
my hand
my arm
my face
and the thing becomes
not me
but a reflection
beyond my telling.
A stone
The meaning of
within the stone
and I the onlooker
like anyone else.

Copyright © 2010 by Long Island University


How Difficult It Is to Say Goodbye by Martin Tucker

FORTY-TWO YEARS IS a long time to say goodbye to. It's probably the reason I've put off writing my "farewell" till the last minute, or the last minute before the printing press gulps down my words. Of course it hasn't been forty-two years that I've been saying goodbye, maybe two at the most. Forty years at a helm is a signal to pull into port. That's what I thought two years ago.

It takes time to slow down. Even the machines in a fitness room have a "cool-down" warning. Perhaps then it is a fitness-occasion now to say farewell.

Confrontation began, as many of its readers know, in 1968, the year of several confrontations that rocked the country. The editorial board of this magazine chose the name because it wanted to be a part of the country's spirit - the word was zeitgeist then -and to be inside the whirl of activities illustrating it. Our mission was less to choose sides, announce a winner of a contest, than to show the pluralities of life's arguments. There are always plenty of life's arguments to take issue with (which we did in assigning whole issues of the magazine to one blazing issue of the moment). Perhaps there were more confrontations in that momentous year than in the present moment. Such arguments with time and about the times can rarely be settled by figures, even of personal and mammoth size, but such figures are the stuff around which time takes its shape. And so we took up this banner called Confrontation.

Yet from the beginning - from its founding editors' approach to its most recent stance-we were more concerned with a two-faced look, a presentation of at least two ways at looking at a blackbird (or Hartford or poetry or even life insurance, for that matter). I suggested the name Confrontation after wanting to call the magazine Prism –initially. I thought our magazine, though it had firebrands on the staff, should be prismatic rather than confrontational. Fortunately or unfortunately, there was already a magazine called Prism, and so we opted for a second-choice title.

The history of a magazine is determined by its editors, for they select the good (or bad) writing that will distinguish it. When the magazine started, it had editors from the then-three campuses of Long Island University -the Brooklyn Center, C.W. Post, and Southampton College. Robert Donald Spector and I were chosen from the Brooklyn campus (I came to L.I.U. as adjunct instructor in 1956 in the English Department at the Brooklyn Center and rose to Professor and Chair of the English Department before moving to the C.W. Post campus 23 years later). Eugene Arden and Dan Levin were the editors from the Post campus, and Robert Umphreys and Steve Levinson represented the Southampton campus. Leading all of us with her vision was the founding patron of the magazine, Winthrop Palmer. Winthrop, who made the magazine possible through her generous financial contributions, and later endowment, possessed vast enthusiasm for all the arts, but particularly literature. Often meetings were held in her elegant apartment in Manhattan or her grand mansion in Center Island on Long Island's North Shore, where she fed us with substantial dinners and talk about the power of culture. Sometimes we engaged as well in discussion of the culture of power, and the discussions led to one of the thematic issues of the magazine - the morality of prize giving.

Like Mr. Chips, I watched as the editors of the founding moved on. Winthrop died in 1988 at age 88; her death-day is a quartet of eights, a rare date for a rare person. Robert Donald Spector, an important force in the history of Long Island University, as an educator, a representative of faculty interest, a writer, and as Chairman of the George Polk Journalism Awards, died last year. Eugene Arden, Steve Levinson, Bob Umphreys all moved away. The only remaining member of the original board, Dan Levin, remains teaching at the Post campus; he is now in his ninth decade.

Winthrop endowed the magazine and made possible its continuation without concern for financial exigency. A generous patron, a published writer of several poetry books and one volume of dance criticism as well as journalism and dramatic work, and a dedicated educator, she became for me a guiding light and a close friend. In one way, I said goodbye to Winthrop in her Center Island home the day before she died; in another way, I am saying goodbye to her now with this recounting, for her spirit has animated the magazine and guided me in my role as editor.


IT IS DIFFICULT TO say goodbye to all the other editors, assistants, consultants, student interns, and the administrators of the university who have contributed to Confrontation along the years. The history of the magazine should recognize the aid of Mary Lai, Cathy Seringer, Peggy Riggs, Virginia De Francesco, and others who steered the wheel of bureaucratic reports no less lively than the editorial matter of the magazine. I would like to say goodbye to two late good friends, Jeanne Welcher Kleinfield and Edythe Cecil; they were ladies of distinction whose efforts for the magazine need to be heralded, as well as the continuing support of Winthrop's daughter, Rosalind Palmer Walter.


IF A MAGAZINE CANNOT survive without an editor and Editorial Board and a Business Staff (or harried volunteer individuals trying to master the subscription list and sales data and Receipts Accountable), it can only survive on the base of its writers. It is, I admit, a tautological error to talk of quantitative survival. No one survives partway; we are all equal in survival, unless we don't survive, no matter how different we are after survival. Still, there is meaning in talking about qualitative differences of survival. Without the writer, there is no book, no theater to open its door, no newspaper to appear at a doorstep and even in an impersonal age of communication like the web of the Internet, no summary to spread wireless reverberation. Confrontation has been fortunate in having the support of writers, many of them famous and prize-winning, many of them unknown at the time of their publication in our pages, and all of them willing to accept our modest fees. We paid our contributors for their work from our first issue; the recompense was moderate, it has remained moderate, and it appears it will be doing so for the foreseeable future (of course the future is not so seeable, so such statements of measure should be taken with a measure of uncertainty). Some of the writers who have appeared in our pages since 1968 include eight Nobel laureates, among them LB. Singer, Nadine Gordimer, John Steinbeck, W.H. Auden, and Derek Walcott; some have been Pulitzer Prize and other Award winners, among them Arthur Miller, Cynthia Ozick, Joyce Carol Oates, Jerzy Kosinski, Iris Murdoch, James Jones, William Styron, and Jean Stafford; and some have been aspiring high school and college students. All of them graciously accepted our fees and some of them either refused to be paid or returned the fees as gifts to the magazine.

It is hard to say goodbye to that kind of giving.

We did say a kind of goodbye a few years ago to a policy that downsized big names and capitalized on lesser-known ones. We decided to try to discover new or unknown talent and emphasize such work unfolding from their pens and computers. The well-known did not need us; it was a gamble to see how much we need them on our covers. The gamble has worked well enough- attention is still paid to the magazine as it has paid attention to lesser-known writers. Certainly, any magazine is graced with the likes of an Isaac Bashevis Singer and Joyce Carol Oates fiction or a Cynthia Ozick essay, and occasionally we still publish a work by a talent of that size and recognition, but it is equally gratifying to know we have played a part in the burgeoning of a career.

Like many magazines that have become old –and 40-plus is old age in the literary journal field - we sometimes indulge in the memory of our youthful forays. I've said "goodbye" to the “scoop” method. We have had our share of them - we were the first literary journal to suggest, if not fully weigh, claims against the mistreatment of his wife by T.S. Eliot. I knew Eliot's secretary long after she resigned from her job at Faber & Faber, where Eliot was a senior editor. She still harbored affection for the great poet. Nevertheless, she revealed (after much argument from me) that Eliot’s behavior toward his first wife might be construed as unkind, if not hurtful. Such knowledge, while peripheral, was important, I urged on her, for gaining the fullest picture of the dominant poet of the modern age in the English-speaking world. Her memoir printed in our pages ignited both anger and applause, exactly the kind of prismatic – and confrontational -- look we were bent on achieving.


IT WILL BE SOMEWHAT hard to say goodbye to those familiar faces over the years who have stared at me in wonder as I passed through faculty halls and the university cafeteria. "But you retired fourteen years ago," they have said. "We gave you a big party. Everybody came." They do not say, "What are you doing here?" but I hear the words in my inner ear. It is hard to explain that I've been here these past 14 years after my retirement as a professor; that I've been working with a loyal and active staff - a skeleton staff if measured by the enormous body of work it performs. Sometimes these wondering souls have recognized me by the shopping bags I carry in one or both hands, the bags containing manuscripts to be read or letters to be answered. Sometimes, we smile at each other and sometimes the quizzical look does not leave their bemused faces.

I will miss those looks - they are a sign of good regards in my way of thinking - but I will not miss the weight of the shopping bags.

I will miss too the support of the administration, which for 40 years has not interfered with the editorial content of the magazine. I want to thank the present administration, and particularly David Steinberg, for its firm support. Other administrators over the years come to mind: Jeffrey Kane, Mary Lai, Edward Cook, Gail Stevens, Katherine Hill-Miller. And I will miss the friendship and aid of our Executive Director of the Books Program, Robert Hagelstein, whose advice was essential for our modest Press operations. In addition to being a colleague, Bob was once my student at the Brooklyn Center of L.I. U. Later he became President of Greenwood Press, which he helped to make the largest scholarly reprint publishing company in the U.S. I will miss too the close working association with our compositor/ designer John Beck, and our printing company, Thomson-Shore, each demanding deadlines of me as I demanded deadlines of them.


I AM SAYING GOODBYE to an ordered life which of course is disordered some of the time, but has recognizable time tables and furniture of many designs to remind one of his obligations. What awaits may be a less ordered life, one where the touchstones are seen more in the desire to find them and in the knowledge that they are to be constructed by self-discipline. Or what may await may be just as tempting - a landscape against which memory moves its moods into a basket for plucking all the things it has been hard to say goodbye to.


AND NOW I WOULD like to say hello to the new editor, Jonna Semeiks, who will take the reins with the next issue. Jonna has served on the magazine for close to a decade and comes with a background of magazine experience and a rich knowledge of modern and contemporary literature. She will be assisted by the new Poetry Editor, Belinda Kremer, and a new resource for our Internet age, Terry Kattleman, who will serve as Director of Publicity and Technical Information. It is a wonderful team, one I don't have to say goodbye to, at least for a year. I'll be staying on as consultant for the coming year.
- Martin Tucker

P.S. In writing this, I realize - suddenly - this is the last time I will have the last word on something I write. I will have to say goodbye to that, too.

Copyright © 2010 by Long Island University

Monday, July 21, 2008


Our younger son, Jonathan, is a traveler, while our older son’s avocation is that of a writer (see Chris’ Why am I a Writer at the end of

It is hard to believe Jonathan is now 31 and Chris is 43 as it seems like mere moments have passed between these two photographs, the first Jonathan looking up in admiration of his older brother in the early 1980’s and the other of me flanked by them just this last Xmas holiday.

This summer, between jobs in private equity, Jonathan decided to take a trip he's always dreamed about. Last week he flew to Brussels and then was on his way to Egypt, Giza and the Pyramids, Cairo, Jordan, Petra, Lebanon, Syria (Damascus), through Israel, Bulgaria, Turkey, onto Greece where he is boarding a boat for a cruise of the Greek Islands, then to India, Delhi, to Kathmandu in Nepal, and two weeks traveling by boat, bus, jeep, and yak all throughout the northern cities of India, Agra, etc., ultimately hiking through the Himalayas. Whew! Most of his travel is being done with frequent flyer miles, a backpack and, except for parts of India, on his own. Talk about Wanderlust!

I suppose this is indeed the time to undertake such an ambitious trip before the responsibilities of a new job and perhaps marriage and family intercede. I never had those options, although my work entailed a number of international trips and contacts. In fact, on some of those trips I would bring my wife, Ann, and Jonathan. One I think he found especially impressionable was a trip to Japan when he was only twelve. The Japanese library market sought our professional and scholarly books and so my travels occasionally brought me there and I became close to the Japanese booksellers, particularly our distributor. My Japanese host and the head of the distribution company, Mitsuo, admired Jonathan’s inquisitiveness and took him under his wing. We travelled with Mitsuo and his wife to a spa hotel northwest of Tokyo where Naruhito, the Crown Prince of Japan, had stayed. There on the eve of the 1990 New Year, we were treated to a special weekend where we were the only Westerners, sleeping on handcrafted tatami mats, eating traditional Japanese food. My host challenged me to guess the identity of the dinner appetizer – something that tasted like steak tartar to me. He laughed when he told me it was raw horsemeat, a delicacy in the region. Luckily, I had sufficient Sake to wash it down. Not so at breakfast that consisted of seafood, rice, and fermented foods. Jonathan ate adventurously.

The high point of the weekend was the spa. First indoors we had to bathe sitting on a small stool, using a bucket with water, soaking and scrubbing ourselves until clean. Then, with nothing but a bathrobe, we walked outside into the cold night air, with snow on the ground, disrobed, and plunged ourselves in the hot springs. A bamboo curtain separated the ladies from the men. We could talk to our wives but not peek. Jonathan took to this so naturally while I had to be coaxed into the hot pool, simply because the temperature difference was so great.

In fact in two short weeks, Jonathan was beginning to find himself around Tokyo with little difficulty, using public transportation, and we let him explore a little. Ann and I remember sitting in our hotel room at the New Otani Tokyo, after he had left to go to the Ginza to see the latest electronics, watching him from our 30th floor window, a little speck on the street, crossing a bridge to the underground. Amazing we thought (perhaps as much surprised by our permissiveness as by his courage).

So it is no wonder that as a student at Bates College, Jonathan choose to spend his junior year abroad, living in Kyoto with a host family, attending Doshisha University, immersing himself in Japanese. We visited him there and were favorably impressed by his rapidly developing language skills as he took us to Temples and local restaurants. Today he has a good working knowledge of the Japanese language and of course the culture. Immediately after college he again returned to Japan, initially with the thought of job searching there, but, having mastered Japanese, Jonathan was intent on learning more about Asia, particularly China, so he choose to teach English in Guanjo, China and in so doing, developed conversational abilities in Mandarin. Several years later he returned to China to complete his MBA, finishing his last semester at Beijing University. By this time, his Mandarin was as fluent as his Japanese.

While working at a major financial firm for several years, he planned his vacations for other points in the Far East, including Viet Nam and Cambodia, always choosing the more challenging trips to the leisurely ones. So it is no wonder that given this new two month window, he has planned a demanding itinerary.

A little more than ten years ago he turned 21. At that time I wrote him a letter which I still stand by today. It almost sounds prophetic.

Dear Jonathan,

Today you are 21. There were other watershed years, your 13th, your 18th, but, for some reason, this is the really big one -- at least from my perspective. Why? Maybe, symbolically, it marks the true demarcation between dependency and non-dependency and, therefore, has as much meaning to Mom and me as it does to you -- as you move away from our lives and into your own. In other words, your 21st is also a reflection on us and the roles we have played while you were growing up.

I feel a deep sense of sadness in one respect. I could have been a better parent, maybe had a better relationship with you. In my defense, though, the time, which I thought, was so timeless, suddenly disappeared and here we are at this moment. In my next life, maybe, I will be more conscious of time and how fleetingly, even suddenly, it passes. I held you in my arms one minute and the next we touch mostly in cyberspace.

But, enough about my perspective as the best thing about turning 21 is something you might not think about much: the future. In many respects I wish I could skip ahead for one moment and see your life when you are my age. The possibilities, the possibilities.... And, it's all about choices -- you'll have many more than we had but, still, you have to make the choices. These relate to not only career tracks but also ethical, behavioral, and life style choices. I am not going to sit here and say anything about what you should do but I will note that these choices are being made every day by you whether you are aware of them or not. The Gestalt of those choices is the person you will become and the life you will lead. May it be a happy and productive one.

It is only fitting, I think, that you are going off to Japan in a few days. What a start to becoming 21. Leaving the cocoon of your childhood and going out into the world. But, your Mom and I will always be there for you -- even after we are not there. May you always feel that love. I gave you a poem, once, by Robert Mazzacco. No doubt you read it quickly and it became one of those victims of the moment. I'll close this note quoting that poem. I could never say it any better and I admire the ability to say something so profound is such small space:

Family voices; you still can hear them,
ever so dimly, there in your own voice:
your father's voice, even your mother's voice.

The older we get
the more you'll hear them,
though no one else does.
Just as you still can see them, all over
your body, though, of course, no one else must:
family scars and family kisses.

- Robert Mazzacco

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wintry Moorings

Halyards slap
in the winter morning’s
northwest wind.

The boat yard
is a lonely place.

Hulls are awkward hulks
beached on parking lots,
stringers and fiberglass
settled on blocks and cradles.

Some boats still endure the water,
lines urging
finger slips to test pilings;
ice-eaters drone in the briny dark.

On land they are shrink-sealed in plastic
or framed under bulky tarpaulins,
riding out the wintry bombardment,
awaiting next summer’s voyages.

Others lay abandoned
by Captains who are no more

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Turning 65

Yes that is me, some 64 years ago.

Ever since I've received statements from Social Security or a retirement account I have seen the ominous words “you are eligible to retire December, 2007…” etc. When I first saw those words they seemed to belong to someone else, perhaps another person in the future? I never thought about retirement, turning 65, my future health, etc. as I simply loved working and never thought it would end. But, before I realized it, some aspects of my health deteriorated, work ended, and this week I turn 65.

I had thought 50 was a milestone but nothing really changes at 50 other than your age. There are no other markers such as the onslaught of statements from Social Security, Medicare and the endless solicitations for supplemental health insurance, reminding you, reminding you…ad infinitium.

Ann is planning a birthday party for me at our home with friends and relatives. While I look forward to that, the high point will be a musicale I will give, accompanying my friend, Kate, who sings pieces from the Great American Songbook, songs I love. I occasionally accompany her on the piano at benefit concerts in the Palm Beach area. Our brief selection for the party is:

They Say It’s Wonderful by Irving Berlin
So Far by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers
I Won’t Send Roses by Jerry Herman
Anyone Can Whistle by Stephen Sondheim
Thanks for the Memory by Robin and Rainger.

I’ll conclude with two solos, both for my wife, Ann (pictured with me at Looking Glass Falls, NC), without whom I would have never made it to my 65th birthday:

I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face by Lerner and Loewe
and Annie’s Waltz, which I wrote when I first met her. (Someday, when I figure out how to put a sound track on this blog, I’ll post a recording.)

At 50 one is forward looking, and at the prime of one’s life. At 65 one seems to be drawn back into the past. While I am not a naturally gifted pianist, I work at it and it is an important part of my future. Moving forward in some creative endeavor, I think, is the best anti-aging tonic. The little musical selection above has some my favorite artists, especially Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. I will give you “my take” on the Great American Songbook genre at a later date.

When I turned 50 I wrote a poem that now seems more apt for turning 65 so I incorporate it below. It still expresses my feelings:


Faceless faces wander through his past:
at crowded airports and baseball games;
at conventions and business meetings,
lips, teeth and tongues articulating
understandings and arrangements.

And the faces marching in the
Memorial Day parade,
year after year after year.

Numbers of his life parading past,
some fractional and unmemorable
and others round and etched by
calendars marking milestones.

Friends from childhood
up and down the city street
and now in the suburbs or lost
elsewhere in the cosmos.

Adult friends too,
gradually fall away into the past,
documented by photographs in
albums no one ever sees.

His children move away into distant galaxies
with gravitational forces not
understood by him.

Do they carry his genetic message
to be read in another time,
across light years connecting the past and the future?

The random culmination of today
connected by geocentric lines
to all he has ever known,
translucent as a snowflake
falling to the ground,
this one life.