The poems I’ve chosen for this book range from Metamorphosis, which I wrote when I was nineteen, and which was my first published poem, through some of my most recent efforts. The book is a book of selections. It includes what I consider to be some of my better work, so far. Several of these poems have been published.
I think the function of poetry is to inform the soul (so please forgive me Stan and Mary Moriarity). If a poem also informs the mind, so much the better, but that’s not its real purpose. Since it’s hard to predict how a poem will affect a particular soul, the value of any poem is almost wholly subjective and I’m quite willing to accept without argument contrary views on the aptness of my selections.
During a debate in the mid nineties I remember being informed that Piss Christ, a taxpayer-subsidized photograph of a crucifix-in-a-jar-of-urine fobbed off on the public as a “work of art,” would become understandable, even agreeable if only I could take into account the emotional state and intent of the “artist” at the time he produced the “work.” To which I replied that the effectiveness of a work of art has no more to do with the artist’s intent and state of mind than the effectiveness of a human has to do with the umbilical cord that sustained him before birth. The result is the result is the result. If it hasn’t a life of its own then it’s dead and ought to be buried. And I suspect Piss Christ had begun to smell even before it was born.
I’m quite willing to have this standard applied to my own work. Yet, when it comes to poetry or painting or photography, or, I suspect, any art, the act of creating also informs the soul of the creator, and my soul has been informed by creating what you’ll find here
Ubon, perhaps, needs some explanation — but not about my intent or state of mind. I spent a year and a half in Thailand during two Vietnam-war tours, and lived six months in 1964 and early 1965 in the town of Ubon Ratchathani as a member of a tiny unit of 150 Americans. In 1964 Americans were a novelty in Thailand and though both the airbase and the town were primitive, for those who were willing to examine what had been set before them, Ubon and the Northeast Thai countryside were a stimulating contrast to American culture. When I visited Ubon again nine years later I found an enormous airbase isolating thousands of Americans in a plush American environment, a town that housed thousands of business girls, and, sadly, a relationship between the warm Thai people and the Americans that had become less a congenial social experiment and more a commercial enterprise. Still, if you were willing to look, it was there.
January 22, 1995
(Revised May 5, 2004)
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
T.S. Eliot, “Preludes”