Friday, February 27, 2009

For Jim and Jeremy


This is the second time a poetry reading by my buddy Jeremy Schraffenberger has elicited a post on the blog. Jeremy gave a Final Thursday Series reading last night at the Hearst Center for the Arts. Just like last time, Jeremy performed other people's poems along with his own — A. R. Ammons, Anne Sexton, and James Hearst — always such a genuinely nice gesture that broadens the idea of what a poetry reading is and can be. (Yup, echoes of Dana Gioia Gioia Gioia).

In any case, the inspiration for this post is that in the Q & A session after his reading, Jeremy mentioned that two of his preferred forms were the acrostic and the sonnet. It just so happens I once wrote a poem combining those two forms: an elegy for another buddy, Jim Hiduke aka Dr. Grammar.

Elegy
— an acrostic sonnet for Jim HiDuke
Frost once called his poems "little bits of
Order"— smoke rings wafting in a darkened
Room, the pen glinting in lamplight, sweet love.

Jim would sketch, scratching a woman's face on
A grocery slip, a face like rain in sky.
Morning drizzle, clean swing, white ball arcing,
Edges the green, a yard from the hole, just shy,
So close, always so close. The fish of legend

Hooked, almost in the boat, then the line . . . snapped.
In the darkened room, that trout would resurrect,
Dull shine snagged now on a line of words — grammar,
Unity, syntax — Jim's days always carved, shaped,
Kindled, like Jack London's last match, last cigarette,
Earning love, life through tight devotion to order.

— Vince Gotera, from the Dr. Grammar website.
First appeared as a memorial to Jim in the
North American Review (2004).

Jim Hiduke was my colleague at the University of Northern Iowa. He died of a heart attack at his home on 17 November 2003. Although I have heard that he ran his classes like boot camp, Jim was always kind to me when I was a junior faculty member at UNI. He would often stop in at my office and we would exchange Hoosier stories — Indiana, that is. We would talk of fishing and golf, and he was always welcoming to me on those topics although I am neither an angler nor a golfer. Jim achieved international fame as Dr. Grammar, offering a website with "Rx for your writing ills." He would often say about grammar, fishing, and golf: "I live for this stuff!" Thanks for being a good friend, Jim.

Below: Jim in persona as Dr. Grammar

In posts on this blog, I usually talk about craft and technique. Today, however, let's keep the focus on Jim and Jeremy. Suffice it to say that since the poem is an acrostic, you should also read down the page: look at the first letter of each line. In terms of "sonnet-ness," it's a hybrid. 'Nuff said.

Jeremy, thanks for a magical reading: a marvelous evening of excellent poems and also excellent patter with just the right touches of humor. You really know how to work a room. I wish you the best of luck in your career as a poet and also as a professor at UNI. I hope that I — now a senior faculty member, yikes! — have been as good a friend to you as Jim was to me when I was a newbie.

9 comments:

Jesse Swan said...

I remember this poem and the wonderful guy, Jim HiDuke. As another testimony to his great humanity and gregariousness, I remember talking with him for hours and hours about golfing, fishing, romance, fashion, and Renaissance drama, all particular passions of Jim's. (He did his doctoral work in Indiana [at Notre Dame] in English Renaissance drama, and always seemed like so many of the types that drew me to the crazy stuff, and he had converted a large bedroom of his home into his *main* closet; I think most people know quite well about the other passions of Jim's I mention.) Thanks for posting this poem again, giving us all another great opportunity to think of a hearty and heartening soul!

Vince Gotera said...

Hi, Jesse. And thanks. I do appreciate your always well-considered comments. Oh, and you're welcome. Do keep reading the blog. --Vince

Anonymous said...

"Life through tight devotion to order" is a very intriguing line, Dr. Gotera. And an excellent last line, I think. It really sticks. Regarding blog/posting I chide myself for being on the computer (there's an awkward line!) too long or too often...when I should be writing my own stuff in the interest of completing my program of study! Nevertheless, I love being somewhat in the background observing the "ways with words" of our great UNI English department. Thank you :-)
Gretchen Reeh-Robinson

Vince Gotera said...

Hi, Gretchen! In turn, I say "chide" is a very cool word. You are welcome. How are you? I hope you are well. How are things with your famous dad? Does he follow blogs, do you know? Oh, wait, does Gary even do e-mail? Thanks for the comment!

Jeremy Schraffenberger said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Vince. Or is it a "blog-out." I wish I had remembered last night to thank Jim O'Loughlin properly for organizing the reading--and for organizing ALL the Final Thursdays.

And I love the elegy! I didn't know Jim Hiduke, but I feel like I do a little now.

Those line breaks "little bits of / Order" and "The fish of legend // Hooked." I have two words for you, Vince: awe & some. Having done an acrostic sonnet (ONCE!) before, I know how difficult it is.

Cheers,
Jeremy

Vince Gotera said...

Thanks, Jeremy. You can get to know Hiduke a little more by reading Jeff's eulogy from Jim's funeral at http://drgrammar.org/Eulogy_Copeland.shtml ... Jim was quite an interesting fellow.

About the line breaks ... thanks! I gather then that you noted the slant-rhymed Shakespearean ababcdcd followed by a Petrarchan cdecde sestet? Pentameter too, roughed-up. As Etheridge Knight wrote, "AIN'T / no square poet's job." Stay warm. --V.

Vince Gotera said...

Oh, wait, Jeremy, I see you're talking about how I got the acrostic to work out: the O in the second line, the H in the ninth line. Okay. I appreciate your praise, coming from a frequent acrostic writer; I don't do many acrostics, I'm afraid. Thanks again.

kim groninga said...

Great Vince! I loved the blog and as well the reading. See you soon--kim

Vince Gotera said...

Hi, Kim. Thanks for your comment. Come back and keep up with the blog. Take care. --V.

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