Abandoned Homeland. Jeff Gundy. Bottom Dog Press. Harmony Series. Huron, Ohio. 2015.
Contemplation with Acorns and Guitar
Night gathers in the pines, but the grassy slopes aren't ready
to give up. The fireflies and the frogs have things to do.
I have a good post to lean on, a stolen pen, lots of paper.
Tomorrow we'll explain, apologize, surrender. Tomorrow
the heat will return, and fat men will tell expensive lies to make
themselves richer. Tomorrow more cattails will die,
more glaciers will calve, acorns will fall from the trees.
The rhythm of the world has nothing to do with saints,
everything to do with bodies. Even on a single path
there are always more than two ways. One law is waiting.
One law is doing something, right now. Maybe it's opening
your eyes, after all these years. Maybe standing up, or sitting
in the packed privacy of the trees, in the places between,
places where things breathe on their way to the sky.
When we start back the air fills with something not fog,
not dust, filmy, almost light, all real, the secret net
of the world shaken out just for us. Let it all stay soft,
let it linger and shimmer around us. Let it all stay.
The page almost glows in the last light, it crazes and
glitters, reads itself without me, it soaks in my words
and gives back something else. Even the birds know better
than to speak this late. It's not dark. It's only less brilliant
than it was. Remember that kid you called dumb? We are
all asleep in the outward man. We are all deaf in the world
of light. Even in the darkness it's hard to hear what
we need. There are words to love: willow, bullfrog,
mud. Things that lie waiting for centuries, like a fiddle
forgotten in the attic, barely breathing in the heat,
the dark. It isn't lost. What's a century or two?
Not every tree has a guitar in it. But some of them do.
Jeff Gundy's narrative couplets fall like a constant soft hammer. Gundy isn't telling us how things should be but he is certainly letting us know how they could be.
Today's book of poetry felt so instantly at home inside these intelligent missives it was like pulling a favourite seat in front of a warm fire. These poems do make you feel comfortably at home and open to consideration. Now this may be, in part, because Jeff Gundy, just like Today's book of poetry, is an old poetry soldier. That shouldn't necessarily mean we can all be painted with the same brush, but there is an instant familiarity for me with Gundy.
In Jeff Gundy's poetry world there would seem to be room for us all, room for us to be and become better, in Jeff Gundy's fine poetry there is hope.
Meditation on Narrative, Dogma and Flight
It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.— Tomas Gösta Tranströmer
My people are not natural storytellers.
Ask my father for a story, he's still trying to get it going
when all the boys have drifted off to the kitchen.
Still, I want the reader as far inside of my skin as possible,
no matter the difficulties. For instance:
The self does not feel like matter, but that's all it is.
I forgot who said so, and I don't agree,
but it was spoken with such confidence.
And so much else needs to be considered:
Kites make the wind visible.
Some tree frogs can only sing for three nights.
Can you tell me how it is that lights comes into the soul?
(That was Thoreau, 1851.)
Spirit is to religion as love is to marriage.
How do you run faster? Start running faster.
How does the box kite manage to fly?
"This is wonderful" and "this must continue" are close kin.
And then the kite's shadow across the plowed earth.
Gundy isn't bound to the couplet, there are tercets and quatrains and flat out free verse and prose poems. But the voice is always the same and you're going to recognize the voice. Every social circle has at least one voice of reason, one voice that is listened to - Jeff Gundy is a poetic voice of reason, if he says it, we have to consider it.
Milo and Kathryn are back in the office, they were welcomed back with spontaneous applause greeting them when they came through the door, followed by substantial hugging and kissing of cheeks. Milo's newly stated project is to be more inclusive and as such he championed Gundy through this morning's reading. It was delightful to have the new couple home.
These poems, all built to last, these stories fell over the room and included everyone in their warm embrace. These are songs of hope and inclusion, and sometimes even something like faith/hope in the better angels within us all.
Letter from an Ohio Classroom
Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time,
from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the
very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I'll let you be in my dream if I can be in your dream.
The theme for the day is not dream but time, time in its magisterial
indifference, sacred or profane only as we make it, shape it,
as we read its scars, its tracks, its dreamy traces. How is it
with the nothing? Heidegger asked. Where shall we seek
the nothing? We may not comprehend the ensemble of beings,
he said, but we find ourselves in the midst of beings all the same.
He wasn't in my dream as we talked about injustice anywhere,
direct action, creative tension. I imagined shutting down
the government out of fear that poor people would get health care
and so destroy the country. I said nothing about that.
One guy complained that he couldn't bring his deer rifle
on campus. Prejudiced against rednecks, I heard him mutter,
and found myself suggesting that he just keep it in his trunk.
A guy in the first row shook his head. Somebody read the part
about getting all the facts before taking action. When I asked
for an example and the guy in first row said "Girls,"
a stir ran around the room, but then we shrugged and smiled.
We'd all been there, we admitted, blacks and whites, guys
and dolls. Some of us lived in the midst of beings we could
not comprehend. One of us hated her stepfather even more
than her brother did, but kept up a mask of mere hostility,
seething, sullen, lest she be thought lacking in respect.
We all knew time would not cure our ills. We all wanted
to be in somebody's dream. We all had trunks full of guns
and time and being, full of nothing, nothing to hide.
Today's book of poetry likes Jeff Gundy and his poetry quite a bit. Give these poems a chance, let them run around in your head, and you'll soon want to dive in for the full swim. Gundy plays the quiet, slow game masterfully, it's not a lull that he lays on the reader, it unadorned reason, so bright as to be almost aflame.
ABOUT THE AUTHORLongtime professor of English and creative writing at Bluffton University, Fulbright scholar and poet-in-residence at the University of Salzburg (2008), visiting professor at LCC International University in Klaipeda (2015). Presented Menno Simons Lectures at Bethel College (2015), Bechtel Lectures at Conrad Grebel University College (2014), Yoder Memorial Lecture at Goshen College (2013). Readings and workshops in poetry, memoir, and creative nonfiction at Antioch Writer's Workshop, U. of Cincinnati, Kent State U., and many other venues.
Abandoned Homeland (Bottom Dog Press, 2016), Deerflies (WordTech Editions, 2004), Flatlands(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995), Rhapsody with Dark Matter (Bottom Dog Press, 2000), Scattering Point: The World in a Mennonite Eye (SUNY Albany Press, 2003), Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga Press, 2014), Spoken among the Trees (Akron University Press, 2007), Walker in the Fog: On Mennonite Writing (Cascadia Publishing House, 2005)
BLURBIf Whitman were born in the Midwest to Mennonite parents, listened to Dylan and the Dead and loved to laugh at himself, he’d sound just like Jeff Gundy. “I want the reader as far inside of my skin as possible,” he writes, in bemused poems that are in love with the productions of matter and time. “How else to describe this absurd, lovely world?” he poses in the title poem of his warm and inviting Abandoned Homeland. Gundy’s poetry reminds us, over and over, that paying attention to the delights and troubles of existence becomes a kind of psalm to this botched and beautiful creation. ~Philip Metres, author of Sand Opera
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