Retired school teacher friend Harold Ackerman reached out after hearing of Lili’s August COVID-19 diagnosis and this little poem published in a webzine I suggested to him as a good home for his work.
William Carlos Williams has to be dealt with, after all, I suppose. As a fledgling poet, I avoided him. Must have read something of his I didn’t like and excluded him from my summer 2009 independent study with professor Klatt (L.S. Klatt) despite his insistence that Williams was poetry’s chief advocate for the conversational quality I was interested in.
During my 2012-2014 tenure at Beijing New Talent Academy I took up the practice of memorizing poems and reciting them on walks around campus. One of Williams’s was among the most pleasurable in my repertoire: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/to-elsie.html.
At the time I tried to memorize many great poems, all but lost to me now. But rereading it I can recognize the words, can’t recall, but recognize them. And I remember the sheer pleasure of recitation. I walked around campus reciting and I can remember a certain part of campus in connection with this piece. There was a far wall, a hedgerow (suitably enough) near where Lili taught in the kindergarten, a round colorful squat building among so many tiled squares. There. And at night, I remember it was night. Sometimes Lili would be held back to work so long overtime I would fetch her from the projects they had her engaged in out of sheer frustration, arrogant American that I was.
Other poems in my docket were “On Hurricane Jackson” by Alan Dugan, “The Rain” by Robert Creeley, “A Blessing” by James Wright, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, “Fork” by Charles Simic, etc. “Skunk Hour” by Robert Lowell I associate with the fifth floor of my teaching building where the science labs were, glass cases full of taxidermies, and a couple of the Chinese high school teachers (men, of course) smoked up the bathroom despite school rules.
“Canto I” I associate with the two shade trees in a court between apartment buildings, my bamboo flipflops, and the baggy sky blue shirt I wore untucked with khaki shorts while pacing in the death ray sun. What must have the Chinese folks thought of this wraithlike cantor of English? One lady in particular admired what she perceived to be my studiousness. Students tapped at the window glass when I spent time in an atrium in my teaching building. It was completely surrounded by classrooms. How weird was I?