Our Hand-carved Ornament of a Great Blue Heron I watch you lift it from our tree, still redolent when touched, to put it away for another year: our great blue heron, my favorite ornament. Another shot of Newfoundland rum is near my chair, a nip for my heart. I’m feeling old; but, when your hands cradle it like a nest, our first heron rises from its marsh. I hold my breath. Newly married we’re driving north, for the first time again. The aim of all art, I pontificate, is to lead us toward the light even when the artist’s eye is cold or dark like the bitter taste of rum however slight. You tell me I’m more than tipsy and wonder if it thinks the stars are herons in flight. (From A Ladder of Cranes, University of Alaska Press, 2015)
was more interested in the opium pipes sitting in their mahogany case than I was in the ancient Chinese poets. In fact, it was my love of history that drew me to the museum. I wanted to be an historian at the time. I have never been one to make plans for the future, but I probably would have returned to Lowell, the place James McNeil Whistler refused to be born even though he was, the place Ann Sexton refused to return to when Rogers Hall, the exclusive private girls’ school she attended, invited her to speak at their graduation. Lowell is still close to my heart. On the other hand, I might have stayed in Salem. I had been offered a full- time job as a janitor. I can still run a buffer with one finger. Before I could make a decision, my life took a fortunate turn due mostly to my work on Parnassus and the Penny Sheet. Someone must have mentioned writing programs to me, and I applied to a few. In the 1960’s MFA programs were still few and far between. Soon I was headed to Fairbanks and the University of Alaska where I earned an MFA thanks to a Teaching Fellowship and the remainder of my G.I. bill which covered the rent for our small cabin. In 1970 I began the University of Alaska’s creative writing program in Anchorage. I was one of two English professors at what was then called the South Central Regional Center and in time would become the University of Alaska, Anchorage. For a decade, I was the only professor who taught creative writing. In the early 70’s, I began Raven Magazine which published mostly Alaskan writers. When my co-editor, Adelaide Blomfield, left Alaska, Raven ceased to publish. She was that important to its success. I stepped down from directing the creative writing program in the mid 80’s and retired in 1994. I live on a small pension that is enough for two people and provides me with time to write. Time is more important to me than money. Most of my published poems have been written since I retired twenty years ago. I had the privilege of teaching many fine writers at UAA including Mike Burwell the founder of Cirque.
What advice do I have for aspiring poets? Find a poet or poets whose work you return to again and again. Study them. Imitate them if you must until you find your own voice and style. I discovered the Chinese poets through Kenneth Rexroth’s translations. They taught me how to
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim