Tuesday, January 16, 2018

`Your Mind Knew the Intent'

The following is from an email the late Helen Pinkerton wrote to me in July 2011, shortly after I had returned to Houston. I was reading her 1987 volume Melville’s Confidence Men and American Politics in the 1850s:

“The Melville book took 10 years of my life, which I much enjoyed, traveling East to find the illustrations, and reading countless biographies of American politicians. Melville’s mind I found almost endlessly fascinating, and reading about the period made it even more so. Today, we think we have political problems. We should try dealing with an issue of the magnitude of slavery. Melville grew intellectually enormously in pondering the problem. He also grew into a philosophical pessimist about human nature and a political conservative, which the current PC Melvillians refuse to recognize.”

When she wrote this, Helen was eighty-five. Whenever she described working on a project, whether poetry or scholarship, she spoke of excitement, focus and pleasure, even when the job was difficult and protracted. Her mention of “PC Melvillians” still makes me laugh, as I’ve had run-ins with that crowd, who seem to think the whale – or was it Ahab? -- represents capitalism. If you read only one volume by Helen, make it A Journey of the Mind: Collected Poems of Helen Pinkerton 1945-2016 (Wiseblood Books, 2016). Here are the middle stanzas from “Coronach for Christopher Drummond.” Read them with Helen in mind:

“Whether Jonson’s grieving prayers,
Or Milton’s rich designs,
Or Melville’s rugged verse,
Or Winters’ densest lines,

“Your mind knew the intent,
Your voice wakened the sound—
The sleeping beauty pent
In chambers underground.”

Helen’s daughter, Erica Light, sent this announcement:

“A memorial gathering of Helen’s friends, caregivers and family will be held on Saturday, February 24, from 1:00 to 4:00pm, at the historic Holbrooke Hotel, 212 West Main Street, Grass Valley, California. All are welcome to join us in remembering Helen’s life and honoring her many contributions to the study of English literature, poetry, and of Civil War history.

“A variety of hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be shared, and Helen’s ‘well-lived’ life and her poetry will be celebrated.

“Please RSVP by Monday, February 5, by email as shown above, telephone at (530) 292-1365, or USPS at P.O. Box 2746, Grass Valley, CA  95945. Accommodations may be found at the Holbrooke Hotel, http://holbrooke.com, or at the nearby Gold Miners Inn, http://www.goldminersinn.com, or Grass Valley Courtyard Suites,  http://www.gvcourtyardsuites.com, both in walking distance of the Holbrooke.”

[ADDENDUM: Go here to read Helen's obituary.]

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