Ready For Their Close-Up: Two Poems

Curated by Suzanne Lummis

In the American Heritage dictionary close-up is defined as:  1.  A photograph or a film or television shot in which the subject is tightly framed and shown at a relatively large scale. 2.  An intimate view or description.   

Visiting Poet: ELLEN BASS



Poem: "In My Hands" from Mules of Love (BOA Editions)


Regional poet: B. H. FAIRCHILD

Poem: "Hearing Parker the First Time" from  Early Occult Memory Systems of  the Lower Midwest (W. W. Norton)


A time back I was talking to a great, big hearted publisher up on the north end of the state, complaining to him about a type of poem quite unlike the ones that follow here.  "Malcolm," I said, "have you ever read a ways into a thing and felt like you're slogging through Louisiana swampland in knee high rubber boots?"  "Often," he laughed, too often!" 

Reader, I'm for pacing all in favor.   Density's good, but the denser the language the greater must be the propulsive force that pulls the reader through the poem.  (I haven't worked out the ratio with mathematical exactitude, I'll leave that to the physicists.)  

Below are two poems fleet of foot and oh, all right lithe of limb.  B.H. (Pete) Fairchild's poem sweeps us from beginning to end with two supremely controlled sentences.  Ellen Bass achieves her pace with quick short sentences.   

And these poems achieve something more than a burst of speed, it's distance the distance they carry us, the readers, and the distance the "I" of each poem crosses in this short span of space and time.  "In My Hands" recounts a razor-close call in which the poet's actions transform catastrophe into a blessedness, a contact with mystery.  Hearing Parker the First Time  recreates a slow smooth explosion of consciousness; at the end the "I" -- or to be even more frank, the poet -- is left with an altered understanding of the day-to-day world. He's felt the upsweep of some new thing: untethered genius.

   - Suzanne Lummis

Ellen Bass


             for my son


It was late November, a handful of stars,

chips of ice flung cross the black sky.

And the moon, a smudge, rimmed

with a rib of frost.


We'd been in the hot springs

and I was dressing in the thick dark.

He'd been bundled in a sweater, boots,

knitted cap.  Then What's that?

his sister's voice slit the night.


I have never been fast, or good

in a crisis.  But this one time

I leapt toward that faintest of sounds,

a splash no louder than a bird might make

ruffling the water with its wing.


I slid into the pool, precise

as a knife.  And as I reached down,

he was there, woolen arms

extended, reaching up.


I'd grabbed for the moon

and held it in my

hands, steaming, luminescent,

impossibly bright. 



B. H. Fairchild



The blue notes spiraling up from the transistor radio

tuned to WNOE, New Orleans, lifted me out of bed

in Seward County, Kansas, where the plains wind riffed

telephone wires in tones less strange than the bird songs


of Charlie Parker.  I played high school tenor sax the way,

I thought, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young might have

if they were, like me, untalented and white, but Ornithology

came winding up from the dark delta of blues and dixieland


into my room on the treeless and hymn-ridden high plains

like a dust devil spinning me into the Eleusinian mysteries

of the jazz gods though later I would learn that his long

apprenticeship in Kansas City and an eremite's devotion


to the hard rule of craft gave him the hands that held

the reins of the white horse that carried him to New York

and 52nd Street, farther from wheat fields and dry creek beds

that I would ever travel, and then carried him away.


Ellen Bass co-edited the landmark '70's anthology, "No More Masks: An Anthology of Poems by Women".  In addition to "Mules of Love" her collections of poetry include "I'm Not Your Laughing Daughter," and "Our Stunning Harvest".  She's received the Larry Levis Editors Prize as well as The Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod/Hardman  Since 1974 Ellen has taught creative writing in Santa Cruz.

B.H. Fairchild's "Early Occult Memory Systems is a finalist for the National Book Critic's Prize in Poetry.  "Art of the Lathe,"  from Alice James Books, emerged as the sleeper hit of 1998, winning both The Kingsley Tufts, the William Carlos Williams and The PEN/West awards.  He teaches at UC San Bernardino. 

Back to Past Issues

Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach