Famous Unknown Poets
By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
Famous unknown poets write on tablets of stone, on sand, on birch bark. On walls that crumble. But yet remain. And just as energy cannot be destroyed, so the poem cannot be eradicated. Words are a splinter in the world's thought. They may irritate, they may bite. But they do not go away.
Once I knew an unknown poet whose name was Ray Drew. Very few knew the man wrote poetry. Fewer still knew that he published a small volume called Goat Songs. Ray Drew lived in a remote canyon in northern New Mexico. He was a painter, a watercolorist, first and foremost. But I have never forgotten his sweet, simple poems of life in a mountain village. Drew lived in a place of last resorts, a walled-in world of canyon wind, stone, moon, and firelight. He was the lonely translator of lovely isolation. A modern day Basho.
The first lightning bug!
How many mint-eating nights
without your coming?
How did I know enough
to write moon-poem last night?
Tonight, full, he hides.
Another favorite poet of mine is Katchik Minasian, or Archie, as he was known among his friends in Fresno, California where he lived and worked as a house painter. His best-known book was published in a small edition paperback by his poet-publisher friend, David Kherdian. Archie could have claimed some casual fame, if he'd wanted to – he was William Saroyan's cousin and Saroyan loved Archie's poems and praised them in print. But Archie had a will of his own, and while he knew his work as a poet had merit, he made no big deal of it. He shrugged when I asked him how, or why, he became a poet because he didn't really know; he didn't care to know either. His friend Kherdian put it this way: "No poet ever believes he will write another poem because none know the source from which the poem springs. The Muse is a likely source, but it may only be a likely story." The following poems come from The Simple Songs of Khatchik Minasian.
About a Dog
the stray dog,
to my constant beckoning,
Soon he is tugging
at my pants leg
and is off with the evening paper.
how like Joe I think.
I walk through undernourished pasture,
see undernourished cows
crop undernourished weeds;
I feel undernourished.
I knew a street poet in the 1970s, a man who'd given up his career as a journalist and was, as I remember, as much a "professional poet" as any in the business, as I might say. His venue was the spoken word. He was a good, gray poet, strong and handsome in the Whitman way, and his voice of soft river gravel would touch the heart of anyone who listened to him read. For a while I shared the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts with him, reading poems to elementary school children. The poet's name was Ron Atkinson. The following poem comes from his only book, Looking for My Name.
A Blossom for Caitlin
for my daughter
d. May 28, 1972: age 1 yr., 5 mo., 5 da.
Under this hill, while the gullies
still ring, I had come in silence
where she lay, in her white bonnet
brimmed for eternity; and with me,
cradled in my arms those tiny white
blooms she had stopped to admire
in the springtime of death's year.
In the early 1970s poetry seemed to be everywhere. Mostly in popular songs as a result of the great rebellion of youth that took place during the Vietnam War period. During this time, in Northampton, Massachusetts, there was a poet named S.P. Wonder (Some People Wonder) who caught my editor's eye. I published some of her poems in The Berkshire Anthology. We met only once but I liked S.P. immediately. She was a feminist, a lesbian, a poet of natural wonders and painful confessions. But she wrote like no one else and it was only recently that I discovered that while S.P. Wonder vanished from sight, her alter-ego, Elana Nachman, became a famous poet in her own right. The following poem is from The Berkshire Anthology.
When I learned my mother had been institutionalized
for the first time in 18 months.
Whatever soul or beast
was then meat in me
opened up my throat as I drove
& let go
a wail, a lullabye
To conclude this foray into famous unknown poets, let's have a look at a poet who achieved worldwide success as a children's book author, but was unknown for the thing she loved the most – Poetry. I am speaking of Ruth Krauss whose collaborations with Maurice Sendak in many bestselling books goes without saying. But her poems? Few know that Ruth wrote lots of small books of poems. On a few occasions she told me that she didn't care that much for her children's books; it was poetry that got her up in the morning. At this point I see no difference between her children's writing and her poetry, but she did. She wanted to be known as a poet. Her poems are funny, irreverent, often silly, ever illuminating.
Where does that river come from
It comes from the mountain
Where does the mountain come from
It comes out of the world
Where does the world come from
It comes from the sun
Where does that sun come from
It comes from
Bless Ruth and all the others cited here. For they, each morning, rise like the sun. Day by day. Poem after poem. Poet by poet. Whoever you are out there, say it aloud. Someone's listening. Hello.
[N.B. Poem also comes from The Berkshire Anthology. All poems reprinted with thanks to The Bookstore Press and The Giligia Press. Gerald and Loretta Hausman were editors with David Silverstein at The Bookstore Press in Lenox, Massachusetts from 1970-1976.]