Sunday, January 17, 2010

Remembering a Life With the
'Cadence & Fervor of Poetry'

'My dad and I were as different as could be (I made sure of that), but his life had a clarity that I find in poetry. He was a carpenter, and if I close my eyes I can see him, thirtyish, handsome, sawdust in his hair, running a two by four through a circular saw, trimming it, holding it up to the studs, pulling a nail out from between his front teeth, taking the hammer from the loop of his pants where it hung, and pounding in the nail, three whacks, and a tap for good luck. This simple act, repeated a thousand times as he built the house up over our heads, had the cadence and fervor of poetry. He didn't earn his daily bread sitting in a conference room, manipulating people, moving big wads of cash around, spinning a web of hogwash; compared to that, his life was poetry. When he bowed his head and gave thanks before a meal, it was always the same words, the same cadence. When he took a chicken by the legs and laid its neck against the block and lifted the axe and chopped its head, there was a plain cadence to that. I hear that whack in poetry...Poetry is church. What animates poetry is faith, the same faith that moves the builder and the butcher. My dad died in the first-floor bedroom of the house he built and his death had a plain cadence to it. When I brought my three-year-old daughter to see him two weeks before he died, he wriggled his toes under the blanket to make her reach for them and then he withdrew them to make her giggle. He had been making children giggle all his life. His voice and the heat of his life can be found in poetry and nowhere else: poetry is about driving the nail in the pine, killing the chicken, mowing grass, putting luggage into the car, gratitude for food, the laughter of a little girl, about our common life.'
--from Garrison Keillor's introduction to Good Poems for Hard Times. If there has ever been a more eloquent tribute to a parent by a son or daughter, I'm not immediately aware of it. If you know of one, we'd sure like to hear about it, as of course we would also welcome your reactions to this one. And with this post, we're initiating a new policy, which we should have begun long ago: when we link to a book, it will be to the site that helps you find it at an independent bookstore near you, rather than the omnivorous Amazon. As we've said in the past, we all should support the independents!

12 Comments:

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Kristine said...

Beautiful prose! I read somewhere that you should write from that deepest place--that's where you'll find that kind of emotion to propel your writing forward. Also, thanks for mentioning the independents. My friend Ann runs Logos (an independent Christian bookstore) in Kent, a wonderful cozy place in a beautiful old house, and so I know how tough it is to keep an independent like this going. Support your independents!

 
At 4:03 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kristine, you're right on. Great writing often isn't as much about techical quality and craft--though of course both are crucial--but even more about writing on the topics that matter most to you, and which touch your deepest emotions. When that's true, you almost can't help but produce powerful writing. And when you feel so deeply about the subject and communicate that, you can't help but evoke the same in readers.

 
At 4:07 PM, Blogger Kass said...

Wonderful tribute. I'm going have to give some thought to the tribute I might be able to come up with. I'll be back if I get a brainstorm or even a drizzle.

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Looking forward to that, Kass.

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

This is an example of Keillor at his best. Wry, funny, sweet, memorable, all at once.

The other thing he does best is his parodies on the show of literary stuff. The POEM PSAs on his show are brilliant.

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Precisely right. At his best--as he is here--no one can quite touch him. Then again, he really doesn't have much competition, because he seems to be kind of in a niche all by himself, doesn't he?

 
At 5:57 AM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

Garrison Keilor's prose is beautiful, John.

I can recommend a tribute to a father that also has a poetry of it's own: an Australian biography from 1998, adapted to the screen in 2007, 'Romulus my Father' by Raymond Gaita.

As a tribute to a father, a troubled father, but also a creative and wonderful father, this one excels.

 
At 6:06 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Elisabeth, and for continuing to stop by to add to the discussion.

 
At 5:44 PM, Blogger LIVE TO EAT said...

Thank you for this lovely post, John. I am sure you know I'm a sucker for a tender moment.

I remember a tribute you once wrote about your father. It has become one of my favorites and I'd like to share it with your readers. And thank you for this one as well!

http://www.neohiofamily.com/articles/index.php?view=viewarticle&id=420&currentpage=1

 
At 7:31 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Michael, you're quite a guy. And to remember something I wrote that long ago is pretty humbling. I'm so very blessed to have readers such as you.

 
At 10:52 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Here's an essay on a young poet's journey through craft and the lessons learned along the way. Please read it at http://wp.me/pC3Xj-dK

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Alan. You have an impressive blog, and an impressive writing background. I'm so glad you've found us, and hope you'll return often.

 

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