What Was Called “A Thought Echoed in Sight” Yvor Winters Centenary

Gus at home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently came across Ken Fields fine essay, Winters’s Wild West, in the Los Angeles Review of Books –  http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/winterss-wild-west/  – a tribute to his mentor and friend, the poet and critic, Yvor Winters. Ken’s essay is rich in history, detail, and poetry, and it paints a clear portrait of Winters in his place and time.  While reading it I was reminded of my late father. The bit below is taken from my chronology at the end of Gus Blaisdell Collected, published by University of New Mexico Press.

_________________________________

In November (1966), while at UNM Press, Gus receives a telegram saying that his publishing mentor and friend, Alan Swallow, has died of a heart attack at his typewriter. Gus writes a short tribute, “Bio of a Swallow,” and publishes it in the Winter issue of New Mexico Quarterly along with Alan’s autobiographical essay, “Story of a Publisher”.

In a letter, Gus writes, “I began commuting to Denver on weekends to help with running Swallow Press and it happened that my great teacher Yvor Winters’ last two books, Forms of Discovery and its companion anthology, Quest for Reality, were mine to design and edit.” In a letter to one of the lawyers during the chaos after Alan’s death, Winters writes that, “Gus Blaisdell undertook this job with no payment from the company and at considerable financial sacrifice to himself. He has done this out of admiration for Alan and myself and out of loyalty to Mae [Alan Swallow’s wife].” Gus also refused Winters’ offer of payment.

To Swallow’s wife Winter’s writes that “Alan was an odd genius. . .  . He had a gift which is restricted usually to good poets: He could recognize good writing and recognize it at once (he recognized the same gift in Gus, and so do I). It was this that made him a success as a publisher, this plus the energy of three bull-mastiffs. He was almost ready to take Gus on, before he died, as a junior partner; but he had been a lone wolf for so long that he couldn’t bring himself to it.”

______________________________________

In November of 2000, Ken Fields and committee invited Gus to be one of the speakers at the Symposium in honor of Yvor Winters’ Centenary at Stanford University. Yvor Winters was a mentor to Gus and helped him in many ways. Gus was happy to be invited for the symposium. He said it felt like coming full circle. One morning, as I sat sipping tea across from my father at his glass and steel dining room table, he handed me an early draft of his Winters address to read.  In a few weeks I would move from his beloved New Mexico to Montana. He had only recently started giving me his work-in-progress to read. He gave it to very few people. So, this was an occasion. And as I sat reading this address he’d written to honor his mentor, I cried. In the essay I learned much about my father that I’d never known. I cried because I was moving away from my intellectual touchstone, my mentor. I cried for reasons I did not fully understand. So, after recently reading Ken’s essay on Winters it sent me back to reread Gus’s tribute to Winters now published in GUS BLAISDELL Collected. When I came to Winters’ poem, “At the San Francisco Airport”, what struck me on this reading that hadn’t struck me so consciously before was that Winters’ was saying goodbye to his daughter, as my father, not a man known for outright expressions of love or emotion, by giving me this tribute, this poem to read at his dining room table those now many years ago, was saying goodbye to me.

  An Excerpt from Gus’s tribute

What Was Called
“A Thought Echoed in Sight”
An address to the symposium in honor of Yvor Winters’
Centenary, Stanford University, November 16–18, 2000

For several years I have started all my film classes at the University of New
Mexico with a screening of Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetée. The
movie is twenty-eight minutes long, made almost entirely of still images—
except for a single sequence of a woman, after love, sleeping in bed. She
opens her eyes and blinks three times directly at her (offscreen) beloved,
her watching beholder; at us. When this point arises in the conversation
with the class I read them the first of two poems, William Blake’s “Several
Questions Answered”:
What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women in men do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
I tell the class that “lineaments” for Blake are the boundaries of the soul,
and that “gratified,” as opposed to “satisfied,” desire requires a thankfulness,
a thoughtfulness of two, and that it is genderless. My young are not
taught “corrosion and distrust”—and neither were Yvor Winters’ young.
[Stanley Cavell, in The Claim of Reason, offers this gloss on Blake’s rhyme:
“Here is a brave acceptance of the sufficiency of human finitude, an achievement
of the complete disappearance of its disappointment, in oneself and in
others, an acknowledgment of satisfaction and of reciprocity.”]

When the conversation has ended or the class is coming to an end I
read my second poem to them, Winters’ “At the San Francisco Airport.”
Sometimes I read it twice, particularly the last stanza in which Winters bids
farewell to his departing daughter:

This is the terminal, the break.
Beyond this point, on lines of air,
You take the way that you must take;
And I remain in light and stare—
In light, and nothing else, awake.

Some students always come up after class wanting to know more about
the poet who wrote the last poem. My several tattered paperbacks of the
Collected Poems testify to their avidity.
Awake and in light. Heraclitus said that “the waking have one and the
same world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.” But
Arthur is awake and alone, his daughter speeding away “on lines of air,” on
her own separate course, leaving him to remain in light and awareness of
the terminal break.

Ken’s poem for Gus

Gussy

Gus
Albuquerque, NM

“Earth angel, earth angel, the one I adore”
–The Penguins

Ten months after your death I got the news.
All that time you were still alive.  Each week
I thought of you or told a Blaisdell story,
The way I saw you first, at my front door,
Six hours late, the middle of the night, festooned
With leaves in your hair from the back yards you’d crashed through
As curly haired as Bacchus and as stoned:
“Your neighbors don’t know you, man”—you kept shouting,
“Professor Fields, goddamn it.”  The next three days
We talked and drank around the clock, the only
Trace of that conviviality, the phrase
“Far fuckin’ out!”  We said it a thousand times,
Late sixties eloquence, we never looked back.
We burned our lives to the rail, in a few years,
You sobered up and in a few more, me too.
From then on we remembered what we said.

You got to Stanford through a pachuco gang
In San Diego, tattoos on the backs of your fingers.
Arrested for stealing a book, you finished high school
In a bad boys joint run by the nuns.  The bookseller
(Later your trade) thought about what you’d done—
He’d never had a thug steal Wallace Stevens,
So he sent you all the Stevens in his store
And In Defense of Reason, strange remorse.
This Winters is smart, you said.  You came to Stanford
Where Uncle Lumpy, as you called him, loved you.
Your master and mine, he called you his wild boy.
One day the dean of men confronted you.
He’d just found out about your tattoos.  “This school
Is a gentleman’s school, and I expect you to act
Like one, at least, and not come back next term.
We’ve never had anyone like you.”  When you told Winters,
He stood up, pushing his chair into the wall,
And stumped across the quad.  “I never knew
What he said to the dean.”  Hell, you know what he said,
“This boy is ten times smarter than you.  He stays”

You only taught the best:  Mrs. Bridge,
Basho’s Narrow Road, Kurosawa,
Chris Marker and Descartes’ Meditations:
“Wrong in every one of them, but read them
Like a French New Novel, narrated by a man
Trying to keep from going mad, and failing.”
You were my only intellectual.
Your charm,
Your beautifully vulgar equanimity,
Brought learning to the table and the street,
“Where the rubber meets the chode,” I hear you laugh,
The rude road Strode rode.  In that quick riff
You’d hear John Ford, Woody, and Sonny Rollins,
And the Duke holding court at The Frontier,
The all-night diner where you said good night.
When you described a round bed with a bedspread
Printed with a target—“it was like ground zero
At a fuckathon”—my wife fell in love with you,
“The funniest man alive.”  And you still are.

“Not too many words between myself
And the world outside,” you wrote.
Well, more than you let on.  A single room
Is overflowing with them, “Some white puff
Just beyond our mouth.”  I want to phone you
When a doctor tells me of a patient complaining
Of fireballs in her universe, another
Suffering immaculate degeneration,
And a man controlling his rage by taking something
He called Hold Off.  But no one’s home.
Gus,
Fireball, immaculate degenerate, you hold off,
You’re somewhere out there, as they say at Acoma
(Simon Ortiz recalls you at Okie Joe’s),
You’re somewhere out there, Gus, or as you’d say it,
(Corazon, baby) you are far fuckin’ out.

Ken Fields