Friday, September 16, 2016

`Something Heartfelt, Yet Pompous'

“We live in the best of times where we have a smorgasbord of intellectual media.”

A good reminder from an old friend, one who knows me at my sorriest, or close to it.  No word from Phil in decades, so I mistook his email for a hoax. I should have paid more attention to the subject line: “So many years, still so passionate, still too serious, maybe just a smidgeon too serious.” Guilty as charged. Phil, his wife and their daughter left Cleveland to homestead in northern Maine in 1977. We met briefly in 1993 in upstate New York, followed by mutual silence for no good reason I can remember. A friend, the artist Gary Dumm, introduced us in 1975 because we had books in common. We both favored Hart Crane in his Cleveland years and emulated his drinking habits (especially me). Phil writes, “I’ve switched long ago from Guinness to Tanqueray and tonic, three limes, please,” and I stopped altogether.

Phil wrote poetry. As I recall, he liked Crane, Thomas Kinsella and Ted Hughes. I read a lot, wrote long letters and drank. During my first visit to Phil’s apartment, we spent the time going over his shelves. He owned many more books than I did and introduced me to the memoirs of Sergey Aksakov and Konstantin Paustovsky. I had already read The Anatomy of Melancholy but Phil showed me the 1927 edition edited by Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith, the first edition with the Latin translated. I had known of Dell through his dealings with Sherwood Anderson and Theodore Dreiser, and thought of him as a minor left-wing Chicago writer. Phil opened a lot of doors I never knew existed. He was saner than me, better adjusted to reality.

Reunions with old friends are tricky. Our images of each other are forty years out of date but I recognized in Phil’s words the sardonic poet I knew back then: “Safe journey in life, my old friend!  (Love ending with something heartfelt, yet pompous.)”

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