Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Poet Gabor Zsille Asks, What's Up?

I got a letter a few days ago from Gabor Zsille, a fine Hungarian poet and translator living in Budapest, and he asked me if there was something wrong. He hadn't heard from me in a long time.


Here's a photo of Gabor, and the letter I wrote back to him. I thought it would serve as a sort of explanation of what I have and haven't been doing this month.


Dear Gabor, I apologize for not writing sooner.

Three weeks ago I started doing a series of poetry readings across three states: Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois.

I drove approximately 1800 miles (3000 kilometers?). I read my poems about my parents, and I talked about their lives. It was a very good experience but that kind of travel is always harder than I want it to be. Sometimes I stayed with friends, sometimes I stayed in hotels. Always I was eating sweet heavy food that I shouldn't have been eating and drinking too much coffee and -- promise not to tell anyone -- even smoking a cigarette. Plus, I was seeing old friends who I've known for 30 years but haven't seen in 3 since I retired and moved down to south Georgia.

On top of all that I was not getting my usual exercise, no running or biking or walking or pilates or yoga. I gained 15 pounds over the summer while I was helping care for my wife's dying Uncle Charlie, and that weight sits heavy between me and the laptop on my knees.

On top of all of that I was reading poems aloud about my parents in front of groups large (300 people at the Women's and Gender Studies reading at Valdosta State University) and small (15 students in a class room on the fourth floor of Cherry Hall at Western Kentucky University), reading poems about all of that 20th century sadness, the kingdom of death, the slave labor camps, the concentrations camps, the sisters ripping their legs apart on broken glass as they fled the Germans, gypsy girls burning up like straw, all of that bad chemistry at the heart of the last century.

I got back home last Saturday night after a 14 hour, 800 mile drive. Since then I've been trying to get back to normal. I'm teaching an online creative writing class and had to catch up with all of students and their poetry projects. Teaching an online class gives both teachers and students a certain degree of freedom, but finally work has to be done, suggestions made, stanzas lengthened!

In addition, I have chores to do that you wouldn't believe. We live in a house that's 115 years old, and something is always falling down or falling apart and needing to be hammered back up! (I'm not going to tell you about my work on our swimming pool pumping system because you'll think I'm too middle-class, too bourgeois. Also, please don't mention the falling down part. We're trying to sell the house.)

And today, I volunteered to leave behind my students, my exercise, and my chores to drive with her to a meeting she has to attend in Macon, Georgia--home of Little Richard.

(Do you know Little Richard? He's the man. Here's a you tube of him singing "Tutti Frutti."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ayNdjFyk1c Have you read his autobiography? It's amazing. A black gay man growing up in the middle of straight, disapproving Georgia in the 1940s and 1950s!)

My wife Linda’s an administrator at Valdosta State University in south Georgia, and she has to periodically attend these meetings. And when she does I like to drive her. She's a fine driver, but I just like to drive. In fact, she's a terrific driver. She taught me how to drive (and how to swim) the first year we were married. She said, "Honey, I don't want to be married to a man who can't swim and drive!"

So while she goes to her boring meetings that determine nothing (I didn't say that) but do give the administrators an excuse to get out of town and eat some bad food and probably smoke cigarettes and drink a little white wine over dinner, I wander around these cities, poking my long Polish nose into alleys and side streets, sniffing like a blind man for some historical spot that will bring all of that crazy Georgia past to me like some kind of Proustian madelaine.

And how are you, my friend Gabor?

The weather here is dreadful. 90 degrees in the day. Steamy. The sun nailed in the sky.

And the nights?

Don't ask.

john

PS: did you receive the books I sent?

1 comment:

Manfred said...

"all of that 20th century sadness, the kingdom of death, the slave labor camps, the concentrations camps, the sisters ripping their legs apart on broken glass as they fled the Germans, gypsy girls burning up like straw, all of that bad chemistry at the heart of the last century."

I want to hold that in my mind like a neon cross and never forget that we're not here for our own pleasure, but chiefly to relieve suffering.