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Mort arms crossed

To My Poetry Teacher on the Occasion of His Last Reading

For Morton Marcus with humility and gratitude
by Aileen Vance - September 1, 2009

This is not a poem
Writing a last-minute poem to the great poet is daunting
Coals to Newcastle
My poetry teacher said, "Name the world!"
And words spilled out of him from Persia, Serbia, Berkeley, China,
Japan, New York
Basho's frog splashing into the still waters of the classroom while
William Carlos Williams' ice-cold plums gathered dew on my desk

"Is this possible?" I said,
"to be at college and to get all these extra words for so little
To hear so many voices naming the world?"
My working-class heart rejoicing in my luck at settling for community
college over University.

"Name the world," he said
That is the charge of the poet
The job
The responsibility of the artist
More than one form
More than one path
My poetry teacher brought forth in every class a rumbling passion
A piercing certainty
A contentous perseverance
That the artist matters
That the poem is urgent
That the poet's path must absolutely honor that necessity

I am not a poet
No. I am still restling with words
Awed by their power
The shape they take in my dreams
The way I can leave them alone for months
And still they come back to kick my ass so hard I fall
All the way back to 1976 in one cold breath

But my path has been taken
And walked
And worn
I have taken up my guitar again many a time guided by my
teacher's words
"Name the world!"

And I was thinking of you
Reading your poems tonight

Why have I never said, "Morton,
Those words, your poems, your teaching
illumined everything I have done in the past
30 years."

This is not a poem
I am not a working poet
But let it at least do these things:
Thank you for all the beauty and struggle you have named
For a lifetime of listening and struggling
With words and rhythm
Cadence and melody
Texture and sound
That is enough
For today
we are still writing
still learning
to name the world


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