My friend, Francine, is a magnificent, theatrical woman who one would be proud to accompany anywhere, and so it was that we picked seats in the front row of a reading given by University of Washington faculty. These faculties were poets, deeply skilled worders, with Heather McHugh on the end whose pattering, elfin charm led us to her reading of John Berryman’s “A Strut for Roethke,” Dreamsong 18. How I love the beat poet elegy drumming in this:
Westward, hit a low note, for a roarer lost
Across the Sound but north from Bremerton,
Hit a way down note.
And never a cadenza gain of flowers, or cost.
Him who could really do that cleared his throat
& staggered on.
|Heather McHugh, Elfin|
Dobyns riffs on the interplay of effects on the page and causes off the page. Heather read the poem by Berryman about Roethke’s death in the context of being in Seattle at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference. The cause was the University of Washington where Roethke ghosts abound. The effect came from Heather's reading through the massive fall of the poem to this blunt end:
Weeds, too, he favoured as most men don’t favor men.
The Garden Master’s gone.
I’d hoped to talk to Heather, but I postponed my chance because I knew I would see her that night at a fundraiser. It was to be in the Chihuly Boathouse and the idea of a boathouse had intrigued me, not knowing anything at all about this great, grand, one-eyed, glass artist Dale Chihuly who has been following me around forever— for lunch, we had found ourselves in a restaurant where his lighting was tangled in the chandeliers, and I had pretended to understand the comments between my friends and the waiter, the delight they were experiencing. Yes, Chihuly or whatever that word is. Above the toilet in my hotel room, a framed picture of Chihuly’s glass sculpture. A friend reminds me the lobby of the Bellagio is Chihuly.
His studio is appears to be truly a boathouse, a corrugated steel shed without any sort of signage. I went with Pete Turchi who is a very good person to accompany anyone on a search owing to his obsession with maps. He likes to think of literature as a form of cartography. The two of us with our smart phones helped guide the cab driver and we found the address after a circuitous path. Pete has the calmness of a person who knows that any destination may be arrived at through proper orienteering. He, too, is paying for permissions out of pocket, a book to come. Here’s a nice essay about his thinking, he's quoted here by Jane Porter:
"We all want to be efficient in some way," says writer Peter Turchi. "Sometimes there's a different kind of efficiency that comes from allowing ourselves to explore and get lost."
|Alfa Romeo at Open Bar|
This is what I didn’t know about Chihuly; he is magic, a necromancer of design. Pete, knowing all, navigated us through the building’s maze toward ever increasing humidity and warmth to a lap pool ringed by mirrors, overhung with fantastic, dreaming explosions of light and lined at the bottom with Chihuly’s glassware. The place seems to be a factory and a home, made to house and display, it evokes encouragement, humor, and awe and wealth. It is a strut for Roethke, a roarer across the sound full of riches.
|Chihuly's Lap Pool with Swim Hazards|
Magnificent Francine and I had stayed at the reading until Heather finished. We had watched her slip-slide away from Berryman’s strut into lines she had taken from letters written to her by the beneficiaries of Caregifted. She had spliced words together, voices from the clients’ applications for the program, collected through some strange mathematical formula that made the phrases seem to be illusions of chance. It was as if the phrases could be simply allowed to fall together, and that even through pure luck, they would so powerfully convey the love people feel in spite of their helplessness/hopelessness. The cause was the life they'd been handed, and the effect was the knowledge that their lives would evermore be defined by the moment-to-moment care they must give to their sons, daughters, husbands, wives. This is the burden of love that chance, or perhaps God, had given them. Terrible— and wonderful— words, wonder and terror.
|Roarer Across the Sound|
|Woman Diving Above Molly Ringwald Who Can't be Seen|
The Boathouse Jazz show was presented in a large space that may have normally been Chihuly's studio. Heather spoke, then read under the light from a diving girl taken from some Miami motel-- or perhaps Chihuly had made it. Pete and I left the event after seeing Molly Ringwald— tall on the stage, extravagantly elegant, and she responded to an intricate pianist with torch songs she sang prettily.