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CIRQUE

F E AT U R E S Remembering Lowell’s Lines on a Winter Morning Opening the door before dawn to deep snow that began overnight, the first true snow of winter, I’m a child again, unschooled in grief or loss, innocent of letters carved in cold stone, a boy trying to memorize one stanza of a poem. The snow had begun in the gloaming and busily all the night, lines I would stutter then forget when my time came to recite in class. Had been heaping field and highway. I can see headlights moving on the road. When the kettle comes to a boil it’s time to have my breakfast. Beyond the window where clouds have begun to thin, blur of stars and then the moon. With a silence deep and white. (from Bridge Street at Dusk, Loom Press, 2012.)

The Man from Here Pale green leaves were opening on the trees when I saw him climbing the bank from a beach that appears when Cook Inlet’s tide is slack. Smoke rose from the embers of his driftwood fire. Reaching the trail, he began to walk toward me as an ancestor of his must have walked toward Captain Cook’s crew sent out to see if this inlet was their goal: the fabled Northwest Passage. A street person and he’s after change, I thought, but all he wanted was to know where I was from. “Massachusetts,” I said, “I’ve been here over fifty years.” He swept his arm in an arc from Point Possession named by Cook to the mountains in every direction before he smiled at me and said, “ I’m from here.” (From A Ladder of Cranes, University of Alaska Press, 2015)

Always a Laureate Tom Sexton

The Writing Life Years ago when John Haines called to tell me I was going to be Alaska’s next poet laureate and that he had been my primary advocate on the selection committee even though he had been asked to become laureate again, I thought how improbable that call was given that I came to poetry rather late and through the side door. I began reading and writing poetry in my mid-twenties. My parents were not well educated and were not readers. They were children of the Great Depression living in a city, Lowell, Massachusetts, that had seen its mills begin to move south in the 1920’s and earlier. For most working class people in Lowell, times were always tough. For most males, high school led to the military as it did for me. In high school my English teacher for three years was an assistant football coach with a German accent who let us do what we wanted to do while he read the newspaper or watched the clock. We never read a poem. I do remember memorizing a stanza of James Russell Lowell’s The First Snowfall for Sister Raymond in the 5th grade at the Immaculate Conception, a parochial school run by the Gray Nuns of the Sacred Heart. I also remember being tongue-tied when it was my time to recite. If you see me at a reading today, I’m the one pacing back and forth, contemplating flight even though I enjoy reading. So how did I become a poet never mind a poet laureate with a fair number of books under my belt? After high school, I joined the army and was sent to Alaska. That was in April of 1959. When I was discharged in May of 1962, I returned to Lowell and had a series of dead-end jobs that made me realize that I had to do something else with my life. Fortunately for me, the passage of the Vietnam Veterans Bill allowed me to attend Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I met a wonderful teacher, Marlene Molinoff, there who encouraged me to write poetry. I looked her up for this essay and discovered that she is a published writer, mostly fiction. She is also one year younger than I am. Before long, I was founding editor of

Cirque, Vol. 7 No. 1  

A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim

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