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.
Poet: ELLEN BASS
poet: B. H. FAIRCHILD
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
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.
IN MY HANDS
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,
HEARING PARKER FOR THE FIRST TIME
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
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.
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.
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