Friday, November 19, 2010

The Morning Reading: Steve Orlen

Steve Orlen, poet and professor of of English at the University of Arizona since 1967 (!) died last Tuesday, three weeks after a diagnosis of lung cancer.

A tribute to him appeared in the Arizona Daily Star and is excerpted here.

My wife is a wise woman.

When somebody dies she skips the funeral

And writes them a personal letter

In perfectly slanted Palmer Method cursive style

And buries it in the backyard.

- From Steve Orlen's "I Want to be a Girl"

Dear Steve:

It's that line about the Palmer Method that gets me. Surprises me.

After all, we already do know that Gail, your lovely wife, is a wise woman. And let's admit it, a saint. Steve, she was married to you, more than 40 years. You with your extravagances; your giant appetites, insatiable curiosity. One of your friends told me that shortly after your diagnosis of cancer, just three weeks ago, you still needed to know from the hospital orderly: What is your name? Where are your people from? Why did they come here? When? And, are you happy? Are they, your family, happy?

But a love of the Palmer Method, it surprises me. As a teacher, you wanted us to be expansive, wild even. You wanted us to imagine what was not possible - to have that guide us. Palmer Method implies control, steadiness, neatness. Weren't you against that?

But because you demanded that we your students question, really question our assumptions, I am wondering why I question your affection for the Palmer Method? That is what you would want us, me, your obedient student to do. Try to find out what is going on with the Palmer Method.

This is what I learned about the Palmer Method. (This is your fault Steve, I am researching the Palmer Method. It is Wednesday night. You died yesterday. I want to take a warm bath, read your poems and cry. But here I am, researching the Palmer Method. You did it again. You made me curious.)

You know what is interesting about the Palmer Method? It depends on the rhythmic motion. That is why it is so pretty. The letters swoop up or down. Because of the well-timed dips and heights of the letters, this penmanship is never boring.

But guess what? If you are doing the Palmer Method correctly, you are not using your fingers but your muscle. Your shoulder muscle, mostly, but also the arm. Rhythm and muscle, that is what you wanted for us. It did not matter if we were attempting to write meaningful poems or live a meaningful life; you wanted us to do so with rhythm and muscle.

There is that line in the poem about admiring your wife's burial of letters she wrote to the dead. Ironic, you did not ever bury, cover-up, conceal.

Now I am thinking of how you fathered. How one could not know you without knowing about your son, his talent, his wife, his latest jokes, where and how they were delivered, how many laughs they received. You did not bury any of that, Steve. Nor will any of us ever bury what you so generously gave.

I am forever your student, forever a member of your audience.



To read the rest, click here.

In the House of the Voice of Maria Callas
by Steve Orlen

In the house of the voice of Maria Callas
We hear the baby’s cries, and the after-supper
Rattle of silverware, and three clocks ticking
To different tunes, and ripe plums
Sleeping in their chipped bowl, and traffic sounds
Dissecting the avenues outside. We hear, like water
Pouring over time itself, the pure distillate arias
Of the numerous pampered queens who have reigned,
And the working girls who have suffered
The envious knives, and the breathless brides
With their horned helmets who have fallen in love
And gone crazy or fallen in love and died
On the grand stage at their appointed moments—
Who will sing of them now? Maria Callas is dead,
Although the full lips and the slanting eyes
And flared nostrils of her voice resurrect
Dramas we are able to imagine in this parlor
On evenings like this one, adding some color,
Adding some order. Of whom it was said:
She could imagine almost anything and give voice to it.


1 comment:

Robbi said...

I have heard him read several times. A wonderful remembrance.

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