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Jack Myers: An American Poet and Family Values BY TOM MCCLELLAN JACK MYERS’ first book of poetry, Black Sun Abraxas in search of a mode. He explores the lyri cism of Yeats, the symbolism of Eliot \(with the and gives all an occasional existential Pounding in the context of savvy occultism. A sample from “The Astrological Garden” should do: because the fire gasses mentioned me I have entered the sun’s palace not the walls of memory or womb but a target in my daddy’s blood whose eyes lay siege to the vertical city rising in its tide of business and transgressions those 1920’s insects dancing into history all gaiety and spangles between wars and when my moon dissolved in Aries that blood spot lit cigars all over town. I forgot to mention hints of Ginsberg’s prophetic tone and Lowell’s traditionalism and no doubt sources I haven’t heard of. But there is something of the disarming chutzpah in that last line that is pure Jack Myers, now as well as then. There is the sense of belonging, to a cosmos, to a history, to a family reaching from the stars to Lynn, Massachusetts, to blood-andbone humanity. Because he is aware of his macrocosmic self, Myers says that he is “put off by critics who point to autobiographically-based poems as being limited, self-absorbed, and invalid: “My own sense is that it doesn’t matter what way one reaches epiphany [“What you depart from is not the way,” sayeth Pound]. Writing from the self to the Other, from the personal to the universal, is just as valid and effective as writing from the Other. A sock is a sock whether it’s inside out or not. In my case, how rye lived my life has a lot to do with my work. Yes, it does matter that I lobster fished, that I was divorced, that my kids don’t live with me, that I teach at a university, etc. All these things show up in the poems and it’s the nature of these experiences which form the form and content, emotive thrust, and vision of the poems. I like a lot of different kinds of poetry across the spectrum, but for myself, I have to go with what brought me here, me. Anyway, that’s what makes poetry original, the filter of the self, and if it’s any good, it’ll hit the universal.” Myers confesses to a fearless self-centricity: Freelance writer Tom McClellan lives in Dallas “I write for myself. I write to myself. When I was a student at Iowa, I used to write for/to the best students I knew, and there were a whole slew of them there who became established. But even then I was writing for/to myself. Now, one of the last pleasures in life is to amuse myself, to see if I can instruct, deepen, merely understand what I think and feel, and a lot of times I just have fun telling the joke of life to myself.” One joke, it turns out or one punchline is the ordinary trinity of me, myself, and I, which Myers explores in “Do You Know What 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. Dear God, I don’t 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 the sound of something large in the distance moving far off. So this is for 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. Among the family of poets, the young man who had followed Yeats and Eliot in search of a mythology to sustain his work attended the University of Iowa, studied under Richard Hugo and Galway Kinnell, and so was admitted to the fraternity of Ezra Pound. The task of the poet in this context becomes like that of a surfer; wideeyed and riding in the curl of the eternal now. As for form, Myers writes: “Form, according to Coleridge and Levertov, is supposed to be derived from content; Creeley says that form is a revelation of content. For me, a postmodernist, the two are inextricably entwined and I don’t care. Unlike Levertov, I don’t believe there’s some sort of Platonic ultimate form for each and every poem; I believe any poem can go in a number of valuable and productive directions \(What did you do today? never fixed, per se, only rendered memorable in a discovered form.” For example, Myers uses internal and slant flat-footed anti-lyricism that affirms the validity of ordinary life as the matter of poetry: I live like the wrong answer among neighbors with heart attacks and cancer. They damn me, slam their doors and collect pride from bitter labors. ten-year odyssey through bohemian life with an epic list that drives into sudden comic truth: In the old days I couldn’t possibly make a mistake: the cold, the hunger, the twisted nightpeople, the useless jobs in back rooms, basements, laboratories, high-rise cubicles, dizzying ledges, open sea, lonely cab, looking in the mouth of kegs of nails, the human brain, shark guts, mock ups; from a ten-Story scaffold to my tent on Bolinas Mesa, I look back out of broken back and bridgework at the incredibly open face in my high school yearbook which quotes me as saying, “Do your best.” Myers uses an oriental intensity that recalls Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” to capture a peculiar bird, unmindfulness: Today the roses in the silver vase have opened their widest: red and white faces blown back in a still room. Even cut they have the strength to surrender. Their petals lie scattered like the silks of a courtesan. I sit here tearing one after another, my thoughts caught off-guard by my hands. Deliberate. tension between form and content which creates ironies is not necessarily a trade. mark of Myers’ work, but it is characteristic of his most deliberately poetic poems, when he seems to be writing for or to other writers. From his first post-Iowa book, The Family War Blindsided \(to 20 DECEMBER 25, 1992