Moving up here to Montana has turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made. Up here, we have time, and the results are showing: Diane has been crocheting beautiful garments (gloves, hats, scarves) and selling her work. It is a great tribute to the talent part of her knows she has but another part wants to dismiss. And I, of course, am writing nearly constantly. I like to say it this way: I’m almost 65 years old, and I’m just getting started!
I feel like a living proverb: I plunked a pebble into the lake to see just how the ripples move. And I am the pebble.
Ryan Murray neglected to tell me that his article on me would appear in The West Shore News today, as well as the Daily Interlake yesterday. This time the article truly begins on the front page, then continues on Page Three. Instead of my picture, this one features one of my poems. The West Shore News is a free paper for the residents of the area and people passing through. Murray’s article is essentially the same, but with enough changes and expansions, including quoting an entire poem by yours truly, that I feel as though I’ve tossed a second pebble, the ripples growing.
I know that I am starting small, but I am starting. Where this goes, nobody knows, least of all me. For me, the wonder, the joy, and the work are a delight to live with and go through; after over fifty years with a pen in my hand, I look at my older work as the chance to build my legacy (as I told Mr. Murray), and with the new work to build upon it. And am I having a great time!
October 27, 2014
Sorley Makes the Front Page
Today is another great day. The Giants won last night, 5-0, behind Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout. And I made the front page of our local rag, the Daily Interlake. Okay, it’s not the cover of the Rolling Stone, and it’s not exactly a cover story – my picture and a hint at the story shows up on the bottom bar of the paper, with a nice article dominating Page Three. The article is called “Remembering Warrior Poets: Lakeside Author Inspired by WWI Soldiers.” Reporter Ryan Murray did a nice job with the text and Aaric Bryan’s photos show me in a good light. It is a flattering portrait and ego-inspiring for me. I may be small time, but I’m loud.
Of course, I rushed over to the Interlake building and secured extra copies to spread around and use for bragging rights. I bought fifteen copies. The paper will make more money on me than I have, so far, on Charles Sorley’s Ghost. But poets love irony.
There are no fences in Lakeside, Montana. Well, to be precise, we do have a small area of our back yard cordoned off with a five foot high fence to keep Meg in when she goes to do her business, but there are no fences between the homes. And the homes are a good distance apart: we can see our neighbors’ framework, but only hear them if they’re yelling and the wind is blowing in the right direction. Yet privacy remains a relative term because we have a constant flow of visitors passing through our back yard, and our front lawn. Between the house and the area our grandson calls the Pokey Field is a large patch of green (in summer, with water) or white (in winter, with water transformed). At times it becomes a playground, a rest stop, and a kitchen.
Common visitors are white tailed deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, robins, song birds, and cotton tail rabbits. We have seen but more often hear Pileated Woodpeckers hammering away at the trees nearby and on rare brazen occasions the siding on our house. We have seen Mountain Quail and ruffled grouse, a red fox, and once, a young wolf, all from our front porch. A Great Horned Owl lives nearby but we have only caught glimpses of it – when we let Meg out at night we make noise to keep the bird away from our five pound Chihuahua, who would make a manageable meal.
But without a fence to lock us in and the world out, our back yard actually stretches across western Montana and all the way into Wyoming. The list of creatures we have had the delight to see includes Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Osprey, Bison, Mountain Goats, coyotes, black bears and Grizzly Bears. Our kids watched a young female cougar watching their dogs just outside their home. I have seen magnificent elk, a small herd hanging with a powerful looking male with a broken antler, walking the street of Gardiner at the north entrance to Yellowstone, while walking back to our motel room after dinner. It constantly amazes me what’s out there if only you’re paying attention, even in the middle of a city but especially on the edge of the natural world. It makes a person glad for breath.
Charles Sorley’s Ghost is my tribute to the soldier-poets of World War One. The book recounts the lives and deaths of nearly sixty English-speaking and –writing poets who served during the war and were killed or died in service, from Rupert Brooke and Charles Hamilton Sorley to Wilfred Owen. Owen, who was killed seven days before Armistice ended the war, said, “My Subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Like so many of the poems I read from these men, my own poems are earthy, accessible, but pointed. So far, the feedback I have gotten on the book is strongly positive.
As I often quote, George Carlin wrote that “far more people write poems that read them.” Few poets make the bestseller list, a place dominated by sensationalism and escapism, both of which allow us readers to veer away from our own reality for awhile. Now and then, work that confronts reality and strips away its outer covering gains a foothold. And on extremely rare occasions, that work is poetry. All poets dream of reaching a large audience; I am no different. I have long wanted to prove that I can handle fame and fortune and everything that goes with it, and thank you all. I no longer define success exclusively by commercial standards, but I do still dream, and of course I want to reach you – as many of you as possible.
I am so very proud of this work. It may be the best thing I have ever written – so far. And wouldn’t it be cool if a volume of poetry by a currently little-known made the New York Times Bestseller List, and better still, if it were mine?
It’s not the money I might earn – okay, that’s part of it, but mostly it is this: I wrote Sorley to be read. It became important to me to echo a century later the lessons these brave men learned, so that, perhaps, my grandchildren will not have to learn them all over again.
All I can do is put myself out there, which I have done (and will continue to do). The next bit is up to you. So if you agree and want to read some really good poetry, buy me – and spread the word.
Charles Sorley’s Ghost, poems and essays, is available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle. Just enter “Roy Blokker” in the search box.
In the course of a conversation I had with a much younger man, I had the opportunity to use the phrase, “Encumbered garret.” Polite silence followed. The man did not know what I meant but did not have the time or inclination to ask me. After a single beat, the conversation resumed. But the seconds of silence intrigued me, which led me to write a tanka and post it on Linkedin. One of my fellow poets on that network subsequently asked what the phrase meant. I began to feel really, really old when I answered, “It is a metaphor for a cluttered mind. I read it long, long ago when I was young and pterodactyls flew in the sky.”
The literal translation of the phrase would be, “an attic loaded to excess.” I encountered the phrase in my Eight Grade English class with Mr. Ford; I admit I cannot find it now, and do not know who said it. This got me to thinking. The phrase seems clever and relevant to me, but am I clever and relevant myself? Or, like those two words, am I an endangered species?
Language grows and changes. The dictionary adds an average of 5000 words a year to keep it unabridged. 4000 is a larger vocabulary than most of us possess, or at least utilize. Yet even human expression has changed, modified, abridged. In an era of LOL and BFF and the occasional ginormous addition, other words and phrases face extinction. They still exist, like all the junk shoved into Fibber McGee’s closet, but are no longer part of common usage. I lament their passing.
I am not a Luddite (definition: someone who is opposed to or slow to embrace technology), but sometimes I sympathize. Maybe I could call myself a Ledite, someone who objects to smart phones and LED lighting. I am beyond incandescence, but my phone is very, very dumb.
ISIS is a terror organization. That is, they use terror as a tactic to obtain what they want. They also are a revolutionary enterprise: they have a concrete plan to create their own state within the greater area of Syria and Iraq. This sets them apart from Al Qeda, which seems bent on destruction for its own sake. Al Qaeda are anarchists with no plan to replace what they destroy. We all know how dangerous and brutal the members of ISIS are, and if we did not, our press and our President will make sure we do.
I put this to you: if ISIS did not exist, we would have to invent them. we need an enemy to justify carrying the biggest military in the world and the history of the world, and to explain our military and political excursions throughout the world. This is not a comfortable or politically correct observation, but it stands. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are still out there, but diminished or at least apparently diminished. But ISIS is real, and imminent. Conversely, if WE did not exist ISIS would have to invent US.
ISIS is growing. By about 10,000 each time the total membership is announced in the press. 30,000 in all. 30,000 against the world. Over forty countries with all their resources are poised against this relatively small force, and yet we are talking about taking years to mop them up. Really? Years? We have more drones than they have warriors . . .
But I ask you: between ISIS and America, which poses the greater threat to world peace? Another way of asking: how many civilians have Americans killed since 2001? Bombed or beheaded – it makes little difference to the dead. Whatever the figure, you van be sure our enemies will inflate it. But one civilian’s death is one too many, and war makes monsters of us all. The trouble for Americans is, we intellectualize it, we find ourselves repulsed by it, but we do not live it. Our military is an army of avatars. The people in the region do live it, daily, from bombs to beheadings, as soldiers and as victims, with terror and by terror.
Does this mean I sympathize with ISIS? Not in the least. ISIS only proves that Western Man has no monopoly on cruelty – but neither does ISIS – and none of us is civilized.
It was another nearly perfect day up in the Flathead. The weather has been a little less than ideal, with cloudy skies and early morning rain. But with California in drought and other areas facing flooding, I won’t complain about a bit of wet. It settles the ndust and lets me avoid watering ky lawn. The lawn had begun to prepare itself for the winter that is coming. It has slowed its growing and is changing color. So are the trees. Autumn is in full swing.
One of the things that announces the arrival of true Autumn is the return of the Symphony. Today marked the season premiere of our own Glacier Symphony, that organization that constantly surprises me at its ability to pull off really intriguing programs, under the direction of John Zoltek. Today was no different: Zoltek and the marvelous musicians performed Paganini’s First Violin Concerto and Berlioz’ Symphnie Fantastique to the delight of their nearly full house audience. They began with a short overture, a concert arrangement from John Williams’ movie score to “Hook.” Then 18 year old virtuoso Simone Porter took center stage, thin and beautiful and ready, to take on a concerto written by the man who re-defined what the violin can do. She nailed it. I marveled at how the orchestral parts sounded ever so slightly like Rossini but the violin soared to levels of at the time unparalleled brilliance. After the intermission, the orchestra took on the Berlioz, written in 1830 and utterly revolutionizing what an orchestra can do. It was the first symphony to have a program, and the first to bring a single theme, or idée fixe, into every onbe of its five movements. It also was bizarre and daring in orchestration, even depicting an execution by guillotine! And Glacier Symphony nailed it.
After the concert, my friend Joop and I went to the Blue Canyon for a drink and dinner. I discovered a microbrew stout that carried solid flavor and experienced a “bucket of burgers” made with Kobe beef. Better still, John Zoltek, his wife, two other lovely ladies associated with the Symphony, and young Miss Porter all showed up at the same tavern. I got to chat with John and his wife at our table, and as we were leaving we stopped at their table, where I got to meet, and thank, Miss Porter, and Joop got the chance to assure her that she was going to be world famous if she played like that. With a deep sense of contentment, I drove Joop to his house and went home. The day would have been perfect, indeed, except that Diane stayed home, feeling exhausted and a bit off. she felt she could not have enjoyed the concert feeling the way she did. She needed a quiet time, and when I got home she told me she had enjoyed the time to herself. So, in a sense, we all got what we needed today, and that is nearly perfect.
It is difficult to believe that one year ago Diane and I were preparing to return to Montana from our visit to the Netherlands. A full year has come and gone since last we saw our friends/family there. We started missing them even before we left. But it has been an eventful year for us: two grandbabies born six weeks apart, a wonderful slew of other babies born to people we care about, our grandson Xander finishing Kindergarten and entering First Grade, a trip to California during which we saw as many friends and family as we could and met our grandson Chase, and a relatively peaceful life up in the forest above Flathead lake. We even got to see wild horses on Wild Horse Island just two days ago. And Sunday we get the honor of attending a symphony concert at our local and surprisingly professional Glacier Symphony that will include the sonic whirlwind, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Life is good, and I remind myself how important it is to say that life is good, even when it doesn’t seem to be.
A year ago also marks the beginning of a remarkable creative journey for me. I always write, I cannot help it: it is part of who I am, a very very large part. Everyone who knows me knows that. My little pocket notebook sits ready in my back pocket wherever I go, much to the annoyance of some and amusement of others. But in the last year I feel my writing has kicked into hyperdrive, and I am seeing results. I published five volumes of my poetry on Kindle, two of which now exist in paperback form. I saw poems published in over half a dozen magazines online, plus several articles and blogs. I re-formatted my novel Amber Waves into a sleeker, more user-friendly, and cheaper version. I formed plans for the revamping of other older material into book form, I write poetry almost every day, and I have come up with a way to let the characters of my first novel interact with new characters in new situations in a follow-up project that is starting to gel and centers around a new name, George Damon Nills. Nills will allow me to do what Kurt Vonnegut said he did in his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five: find a way to tell one story by telling another. Life is indeed good. Life is busy, and that is good.
Travel plans are mostly on hold. 2015 will be one in which, like 2014, we wish we could. But our door is open and we hope others, who wish they could, will find a way toward our neck of the woods. And of course there is always the Lottery – I do play, I do buy that ridiculous chance at a bit of hope. Aqnd contemplate how best to use the winnings once they fund. It’s nice to dream. But when I sit at the keyboard and clack out sequences of letters into something sensible and sometimes eerily profound, that is when my dreams come true. And that is when life is really, really good.
It would be so easy, and is so tempting, to rant and rave about what is going on in the world. But today I am basking instead in the afterglow of yet another perfect day in my life. The truth is, I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have had many, many perfect days throughout my life. Almost every single one of them revolves around sharing something beautiful with people I love and love being with, and taking joy in the life surging around me.
Yesterday, Frank and Claire Marie took their boat out on the lake one more time before prepping for winter. Diane and I had Xander for an overnight, and they invited us to join them. it was our first lake trip this year, and likely their last (though if the weather holds there may be one more down the line). Before too long the annual ritual of draining the top off the lake will begin, done to accommodate the spring runoff in April and May, when the lake is allowed to fill again. Boating gets to be a scarce proposition in October, but yesterday the weather was – for fear of overusing the word – perfect. We set sail, well, technically, we fired up the motor, around noon and headed south along the shoreline. We saw remarkable “dream” houses and magnificent vistas along the way fifteen miles south toward Wild Horse Island.
Wild Horse Island is a wonder in itself, and in three years here Di and I had never gotten a close look at it. Over 5000 acres of protected land is home to bighorn sheep, deer and birds of prey: we saw a Golden Eagle soaring above our heads but he would not stay still long enough for a picture. It is the wild horses that give the island its name. Legend has it that one tribe of Native Americans used to hide their horses on the island when another tribe threatened to raid them, and that some horses were never recaptured, leading to an independent, natural breeding program. Today the population is closely monitored and protected. Seeing horses on the island, especially from a boat encircling it, is rare. In fact, Frank told us he had never seen any, and he’d been in these waters often. Beginner’s luck: off in the distance on the top of a rise we saw five or six grazing in the warm October Sun. Even so far away, it was breathtaking, a real privilege.
From Wild Horse, we hustled back up and across the lake to Bigfork, parked the boat, walked down Electric Avenue, and had a very late lunch. By the time we got back to the dock at Lakeside and loaded the boat back on its trailer, it was nearly six pm and the sun was beginning to make its exit for the day. In all, the day was totally satisfying, all the more so to think that Alexander’s two sets of grandparents not only are close at hand, but actually enjoy each other’s company.
Meanwhile, Oddball Magazine published another of my poems, “Scent in the Air.” And my dear friend and sister-in-law Catherine sang praises for my book of poems, Charles Sorley’s Ghost to me over the phone, and my new fiction project is starting to gel and morph into an exciting novel-sized book-to-be that may be the best thing yet. Catherine commented that she admired that I do not give up, and I realized, at nearly 65 years of age, with notes and plans and poems and stories to tell, I can’t give up: I’m only getting started.
It doesn’t get better than that. Thank you Frank, Claire Marie, Xander, Catherine, the editor of Oddball, and of course Diane, and everyone in my life, for all the memories and all the encouragement, and for giving me happy things to write about from time to time.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..