Well it has been a long time since I’ve posted here on my blog. I was just thinking of all the things I should catch up on, KRNL playlists (including my annual Dave Ray tribute from a few weeks ago), thoughts on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, some random thoughts about facebook I’ve had since I joined recently, all kinds of things I was just thinking I should be writing about and was just about to post a few things this weekend, but then I just got the news that poet Jack Myers has died and that sad news takes precedence.
Jack was one of my first writing teachers, and he was a gifted and generous man, both as a writer and as a teacher. He taught for many years at Southern Methodist University in Texas and was a fixture in the MFA program at Vermont College where I got to know him. I took two workshops with him and spent a good bit of time at the bar with him and watching football during the winter residencies. He had a sharp wit and a keen eye for the drama, humor, and absurdity around him every day. And for all the sarcasm and cynicism, tenderness always shines through the poems.
What I loved most about his poetry was its quiet demeanor. The poems make no pretensions, and feel friendly, comfortable, and familiar in their tone. But at the end, the poems always take you somewhere that you didn’t expect to go. I often find that I read a poem and then immediately need to read it again, thinking, “how did he do that?” “How did he get there?” He was much the same in conversation, too. You would have a fairly normal conversation with him and then find yourself scratching your head as you walked away. Wait, what did he say?
Seamus Heaney is right on target when he talks about Myers’ work: “Stylish in their pretense of being without style, wise in their pretense of just fooling around, Myers’ poems take us to a place beyond their irony and salutary laughter where we can once again trust in sanity, tenderness, tolerance, freedom, art, and love.”
Jack led my very first graduate poetry workshop, a group that descended into pure chaos. I literally had to hold another student back from punching another member of the workshop. It was a disaster of big egos, inflexibility, and intolerance–a volatile mixture of personalities. While I learned a great deal from Jack as he talked poetry, I was not particularly impressed with how he handled the group. I sat down to lunch with him one day to talk about it and basically he shrugged and said, “well, you know there’s a poem in that, right?” I learned more from that than I realized at the time.
Here is a poem from his1986 book As Long as You’re Happy:
Do You Know What I Mean?
For the sake of argument
let’s say there are three of me:
the one with the bummed-out body,
the one who senses things are going badly,
and the bright one who can’t cope. That’s me!
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a family.
For example, if #2 has a sexy dream,
#1 may salivate. That leaves #3 free to feel guilty
or write. Only sometimes in the face of authority
1 opens his mouth and 3 slips out “I hate your guts!”
Then 2 tries to get 3 to repent, but isn’t smart enough
and then everyone feels like shit and gets a headache.
Do you know what I mean?
2 and 3 are always sniffing each other suspiciously
while 1 sticks a bottle of sour mash in his face.
We know that somewhere some elegant in a gray silk suit
and shiny black shoes reflecting the tips of the Alps
is slowly turning toward his tasty companion
the date 1957 on their green bottle of pouilly-fuisse.
I did that so #3 would feel better
about having said a spot of French.
That means 1 has the green light to celebrate
and 2 can slink around pretending he’s french.
I’m not sure I believe in you,
But #2 is feeling bad today.
He thinks you’re out there and you’re great.
But he can’t tell the difference between something small
tearing apart and the sound of something large in the distance
moving far off.
So this is my brother, #2
standing here like we’re in church.
Sometimes when we’re quiet like this
I think we’re all the family we’ve got.
Myers is the author of seven volumes of poetry and five other works about poetry including the reference work The Longman Dictionary of Poetic Terms and the anthology New American Poets.
His work has been widely anthologized and has appeared in hundreds of literary journals, from Esquire and The Nation to Poetry and The American Poetry Review. His book of poems, As Long As You’re Happy, was a National Poetry Series selection.
He served on the Board of Directors of the Dallas literary center, The Writer’s Garret, and was a past Vice-President of the Associated Writing Programs.