Poet Ken McCullough is former baseball teammate of mine from the days when we played summer ball in the Soo. He was a great ballplayer and is a fine poet. His new website is www.kenmcculloughpoet.com. Check it out and enjoy. He writes about the north and our spaces and places. Over. Busy writing and researching, no time for pix. But soon…. Will post Ken’s link on this site as soon as I can get my web-meister to take care of it.
I’m back on the writer-is-not character kick. Been writing a lot of poems and a few short stories in past few weeks. The poems cover a range of subjects: special Olympians in a boat coming back to St. Ignace from Mackinac Island; spring storms; the antisocial habits of humming birds; Yooper nights in bars; stray dogs; corporate PTSD; artistic license; an old man’s trout fishing; summer solstice, Yooper high school football; hyphenated lives; creativity; a message in a bottle; life ticking away. As usual, all over the place.
Where does all this come from? A phrase overheard or read, or some little thing which catches my eye and imprints in my brain (without some sort of admonishment from me for it to do so, ideas can be like stick-tites). Some sort of stimulus causes us to take something on board and then we start to think about it, not so much overtly and openly, but unconsciously down in the primordial ooze where all thought and facts mix together without labels and become a sort of thick soup which ferments, sometimes for years, sometime for hours. But comes a time when it pops up to the conscious surface and then we feel compelled to deal with it in some way. This is when I sit down (often it is the middle of the night for poems and short stories). Obviously my own swamp is the nest for all these critters, that is the common ingredient and to some extend the common denominator between pieces, but when I use the voice of I it is not Joe Heywood, it is someone else. Many readers have a difficult time understanding this distinction.
It is as poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, “When I state myself, as Representative of the verse — it does not mean –me– but a supposed person.” In making her statement she referred to a work called “The Poet” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I think some of this is worth recounting here as a helper in the interest of clarifying how to approach the verse and prose we read.
Emerson wrote, “the poet is representative. He stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the common wealth….he is isolated among his contemporaries by truth and by his art, but with this consolation in his pursuits, that they will draw all men sooner or later. For all men live by truth and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, to the other half of his expression….I know how it is that we need an interpreter, but the great majority of men seem to be mimes, who have yet to come into possession of their own, or mutes who cannot report the conversation they have had with nature….The poet is the person in whom these powers are in balance, the man without impediment, who sees and handles that which others dream traverse the whole scale of experience, and is representative of man, in virtue of being the largest power to receive and impart.”
According to her biographer, Cynthia Griffin Wolff, “Dickinson offers her poetry not as a record of individual circumspection, however intelligent, and sensitive it might be. Dickinson does not intend to speak for herself, uniquely fashioned; she intends to speak of the general condition and for all men and women.”
Yes, all the poet creates comes through that individual’s filters and finds expression through that person’s artistic craft and skills, but that which is created is separate and not be be thought of as the creator. Rather it is something made by the creator and which is intended to stand alone. The hamburger you get at MacDonalds may be produced by rthe chef outback, but it is not him. Rather it is something he makes with his knowledge and tools.
Do writers really think about such abstruse things? Some do it consciously and with intent; for others it is a matte of subconscious and serendipitous.
Complications arise when one pens a Roman a clef, that is a fictionalized version of a real event, in which the Character A is intended by the author to represent e Real Person A. The problem with this is that there are a lot of readers who assume all fiction operates on this same convention. But it doesn’t. Very little fiction is roman a clef.
When you are reading bear in mind that the narrator and protagonist are creatures of the author, not the author himself or herself.
It’s not an issue of disguise or camouflage and it’s difficult to explain, but the voice that stimulates the poem, short story or any fiction is no the precise biological self. Rather it is a separate entity, one that speaks from us, uses our imaginations to create images and metaphors and selects words and an order to put them into, but it is something outside us.
On that note, let us march forth into the week. For me I need to find a haircut, someone who can manage to surgically render it high and tight. It is raining and the land is green.
Yesterday we went out to Keweenaw Greenhouse on Arvon Road past the Silver River crossing, to pick up the rest of our plant and flower order. there we got to see a pair of Evening Grosbeaks working the dirt road’s gravel and we were close enough to get some nice photos of these (for us) rarely seen creatures. Afterwards we stopped at the Bovine green grocer and bought the year’s first fresh Michigan strawberries. Within days we’ll have the tiny little wild ones as well! Photos follow. Over.
When Shaksper spies a deer outside, he runs from doors to windows to see for sure.
One of those days, skeeties hovering aloft in buzzing fleets, we had breakfast at the Nite Owl Cafe. Gathering of the local lads (all over 50) having morning coffee, gab-fest. Waitress leaned down to me and said, “No extra charge for the entertainment, or in the unlikely event you find a pearl of wisdom.” Subjects included: water leaks, grass and wood-cutting at hunting camps, tribal politics, buying a new small cement mixer, wives (none of them present) and so forth. We grocked at Pat’s and Lonnie got hold of a red apple that rattles. No kidding. We tried to make a movie with sound, will check it later. Took a nap, then writing. To wit:
This transcript just taken from midday weather report from Sue-Me Finnlander Radio– with its broadcats stackshun up dere Cowsit Lats, up top da bick hill.ON CAMERA ANCHOR FINN: Toivo MakiON-CAMERA WEATHER FINN: Eino Maki
ANCHOR: Yah, okay dere, Eino, youse dere?
WEATHER; Yah, sure.
ANCHOR: Okey dere, youse got youse’s wedder preport?
WEATHER: Yah, I got.
WEATHER:Youse know, hey.
ANCHOR: Yah sure, i know, but youse tell udders out dere listen Finn Radio, where silence golden and words cost few bucks more.
WEATHER: Wedder she same old stuff dis time year, eh.
ANCHOR:Okay den, t’anks dere, Eino, eh.
WEATHER: Youse betcha, Toivo.
ANCHOR:Das wass da stackshun wedder Finn, my brudder Eino dere, eh. He’s one got bot’ hiss deer legal lass year, first time hever.
WEATHER:Hey dere Toivo. Licksinner Pipples gone get licksin some muke-sick or youse blabber on, eh?
Did a live, remote gig on radio today, show called “Big Sea, Shining Water” on WOJB-FM Community Radio out of Ashland, Wisconsin. In was interviewed by morning host Eric Schubring, and Lissa Radke, U.S. Coordinator of the Lake Superior Binational Forum, Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, Northland College.At this age and with my background I’ve done thousands of these over the decades, first as spokesman for my USAF Wing, then as a corporate mouthpiece in a suit, and now for myself as an author. Despite all this experience I always wonder how best to present myself in such opportunistic moments. Some authors come across with a halting,wait-I-need-the-exact-word(pearl)-posture. You’ve no doubt encountered this yourself, a series of time-buying uhs and ahs and grunts and sighs preceding what invariably turns out to be a perfectly polished stream of orderly, logical thoughts. It’s my own bias, but this sort of affectation tends to be most present in writers of academe, and in some preachers and pulpit pilots.Poets have a performance voice as well. It’s a conscious shift to a sort of stage voice that happens after they talk about a particular poem, then put their head down to read and launch into the lilting tone,k one that has always grated hell out of me because it sounds fake and affected. Seems to me that elevating your voice into a lilting singy-song neither improves the effect of the words or metaphors you’ve selected. I’ve always thought poems should be read in a normal voice and the words and language and construction works its magic without some kind of enhanced boost. But that’s just me. Same with authors of prose,same deal. Just answer the question. In media training I always taught my students to not answer any question except ones they wanted to answer, but I try not to play those games in my professional life because the only people with stock in me are my family and friends and my share price and value is measured solely by sales. Bottom line with TV and radio is that time is money, an invaluable resources and in my way of thinking if you’re the guest being interviewed you need to get your responses out clearly and quickly, rather than waste air time with ooh and ah, and uh and postured pauses to create the impression of deep, searching thought. My goal: Spit it out, son, spit it out.”Today’s interview with Eric and Lissa went well and having finished, the Alberta Village Pack (Lonnie, Shaksper, and I ) got into the Green Streamer and drove out to the Keweenaw Greenhouse to fetch up some of our potted order of veggies and herbs. The rest will be ready for us later this week. Because we are no past the “don’t-plant-until-after-the-first-moon-in-June dictum of local farmers, putting stuff on the deck should now be safe, barring marauding deer. We shall see. No more interviews scheduled until fall. (Hear that, fish?).Attention to readers and fans down at the library in Presque Isle, Wisconsin. Drop me a note. We’re little over an hour away and should be able to work out a night with readers at your convenience this summer. Would have made direct contact, but a virus ate some of my computer earlier this year and I am still recovering.Over. Over.
Today is June 12. The time of the long days has gently engulfed us with warm dry days, cool nights, the promise of wild berries soon to come,mayflies hanging in the morning air, brook trout rising loudly, their delicious red flesh there for the taking. As if yesterday, we saw no ice in Keweenaw Bay. Our own lake was still icebound when we arrived on May 3, as was the big bay and now our ice is gone as it is from the big water. There were small bergs and ice sculptings floating in the bay on Saturday. They looked almost gaudy in their showoffedness in lingering so late into the next season, not their own.
Short as our nights are now, we are too lethargic in the dark to crawl outside to drink star-shine and confirm that our pole star Polaris continues to patrol it’s tiny tight orbit over our heads. Our planet continues to spin on its own axis and orbit the sun, which creeps further north by the day, unnoticed by all but some farmers and old fishermen and aging navigators. The migrations are done, happened in waves, led by robins, then yellow legs, greater and smaller, various waterfowl, then legions of warbles in all hues of the rainbow and orioles and Keweenaw Canaries (goldfinches). They passed through and stopped to eat and sing and cavort en route to some secret destination, reminding me of Shakspeare’s players out in the hinterlands before they achieved royal sponsorship (which then meant less reason to take their shows on the road, except when plague visited London and the road an eminently healthier alternative.) Hummingbirds and canaries remain, but with the lilacs in full bloom there are fewer hummers at our feeders. Wildflowers are popping everywhere and the little buzzers have ample nectar everywhere to choose from.
Last winter was a meteorological freaky phenomenon, extremely cold, extremely snowy, and extremely long-lived. Lake Superior was damn near iced over in its entirety something that hasn’t happened in a couple of decades. The grudging withdrawal of winter has left local people a bit loopy, as if the Germans finally decamped Leningrad and Stalingrad. Folks stand grinning in the sun, drinking the rays like air-born spirits, which is a sense they are. Gaunt, stunted deer venture onto the grounds and highway verges and it is even money if they will survive a second consecutive monster winter. This rounded hill country (not that much lower than Mts. Arvon and Curwood, the state’s highest points with only 11 inches difference. We are not more than 100 feet lower in our surrounds and some eight miles uphill and inland from the bay and L’Anse (and just a few miles up the road from Bovine). The microclime here is known for cold, including our village of Alberta, and the nearby hill hamlet of Herman. We tend, even now, to be 20 or more degrees warmer than the bay-shore. In winter it is far colder and snowier up this way, and often this area is among the very coldest in the Yoop. With this past winter’s severity we have not yet seen a fawn. These are usually dropped in late May, early June. Biologists say the average winter up here takes 100 thousand cervid lives. A severe winter claims twice that and last winter was an awful one. How bad? There was a predator study being done in Iron County (just south of us) in which 43 fawns were collared last summer, to track through the year. Not one is alive now, all of them taken either by predators or weather since their collaring. The sun, as I said, is creeping northward.
The older I get, the more I appreciate my five years as an Air Force navigator. The opportunity to find my way around the world using centuries-old techniques and barely modern adaptions of old instruments was challenging and satisfying as we winged across oceans at 500-600 knots. My friend, former high school sports foe, fraternity brother, and Air Force crewmate (copilot) will arrive later this month for a brief visit. It is ironic that I lived the nomadic life growing up and he grew up rooted in St. Ignace, and now I am the rooted one and he continues his nomadic, globe-trotting ways. The two local high schools (Baraga and L’Anse) have matriculated and celebrated their senior send-offs, and just last weekend L’Anse had it’s annual lake trout festival, including the Little Miss Lake Superior beauty pageant, which as conducted outdoors in rainy, mid-40 degree weather as the little contestants (ages 8-12) stood shivering in sandals and frilly party dresses for parts of the competition.
This weekend is Bridgefest in Houghton as various communities throw their shindigs to attract tourist monies. Winter of course is now far more lucrative for these Yooper communities, a flipper from my days pre-snowmobiles, when summer was king above the bridge. Still is in my mind. It just doesn’t bring in as much per capita lucre. The snowmobile era took off in the mid sixties, while I was in college. Shaksper turns in every night at 2100 sharp, looking for the coolest, darkest room to sleep. Our schedule is loose. Lonnie and the mutt make a daily perambulation of the campus perimeter checking the progress of wild berries. There was wolf scat along the way as well and Shaks showed considerable balking at some unseen scent. There are two known packs here and we are on the spot where the two territories slightly overlap. But no tracks, no sightings and no howls heard thus far. The wild strawberries as of this morning are beginning to redden, meaning ripening is but days away. These will be followed by raspberries (razzies), blueberries (bloobs), blackberries (blackies), and thimbleberries. One year in Deer Park we had scads of blueberries into October. Thimbleberries are largely an August e event. Strawberries can ripen all summer. We found no morels and as usual guidance from locals is largely lacking.
We were loosely introduced to an older fellow a couple of days ago and when Lonnie revealed we were here for six months, he looked at me and said, “Doing what?” I told him, “Fishing, looking around, reading, the usual stuff,” and I could tell by his eyes none of the three were “usual” by his definition. The overwhelming hospitality of Yoopers continues as fresh cookies, rhubarb desserts and coho fillets arrive at our door. Such gifts are given with no expectation of reciprocation. They are given solely because the gives’ hearts direct them to give. Quite amazing, considering we are virtual strangers, but this reflects the beauty and depth of the collective Yooper soul. Lucky us to be among such warm and welcoming people.
Henry Ford built this little community in 1937 as a “model town.” Seventeen families now live here full-time. It was then said to be located in a region of “giant trees.” The village was named for Miss Alberta Joan Johnson, daughter of Ford’s Iron Mountain superintendent. The first logging took place in the summer of 1936 ( no doubt for lumber to build the village); most logging takes place in winter. Ford built a dam and a 50-acre lake on the property (the lake having been known as Plumbago, Ford, and Alberta Lake at various times over the past 60 years). The village and surrounding forests were given to Michigan Tech University 60 years ago this summer. There will be a celebration of the event this August. The campus is part of the Forestry department. 40 students will be here August- November. It will be fun to meet them and learn what sorts of things they are up to.
Dave Stimac, the current Maintenance Guru here was in 1981 the head sawyer for the Ford plant, which closed that year. He now takes care of this place and makes bird’s eye furniture on the premises. he grew up in Trimountain, and graduated from Painesdale HS in 1971. In my high school days (10 years before Dave graduated) we used to drive over here to play basketball against the Painesdale Jeffers High School Jets. Small world. Dave told me that in 1994 he started the plant back up for a day so that various people could film the plant operation and equipment for posterity. He said it all started easily and ran like a top.
He also related how convicts used to work at the mill and sometimes he would drive over to the minimum security prison to fetch them back to work, usually ten men at a time. But one night ten turned nine, the cops were called and a manhunt begun. It turns out that the man had hidden himself in some inner recess of the mill and after the cops came and dark set it, he went over to the office building, got into the safe, grabbed cash and beat it…. To Sidnaw where he was discovered by troopers that night drinking. Talk about a powerful drive for drink and freedom. Sidnaw (locals prounounce is Sid-na) is all of 15-16 miles from where I type this. Had there been a closer tavern he no doubt would have decamped there. And there is the story of the county’s Nature Boy, also called the Human Cormorant, who was crazed about fishing and fish and lived withi his girlfriend Peaches. But that’s for another time. The characters I hear about up here is wonderful and only adds to the fabric for stories. The photos that follow are the first dozen from yesterday’s self-guided tour of the old Ford Sawmill. Will post more tomorrow or the next day. Very cool. Enjoy. Over.
We are hearing all the time about the emptiness and self-centered posture of Milennials and how they are growing up with social networks and smart phones and electronic games, and little human social contact and how this will of course lead to the demise of mankind and country.
This came to mind as I was reading George F. Kennan’s SKETCHES FROM A LIFE. Kennan, a Wisconsin boy, served his entire life in the foreign service of the US. Expert on USSR, etc. Interesting man. June 1938 he was on leave in his home state and moving around on a bicycle and had some interesting observations and concerns, which in some ways sound very familiar with the current dirges being hummed. “The tree-lined street stretched away down the hill, under the arc-lights. The sidewalks were deserted, but a steady stream of sleek, dark cars flowed between them, moving in and out of the town. Each car had its couple or its foursome inside, bent on pleasure — usually vicarious pleasure — in the form of a movie, or a dance, or a petting party. Woe to the young man or young woman who could not make arrangements to be included in one of these private, mathematically correct companies of nocturnal motorists. All the life of the evening flowed along the highways in this fashion, segregated into quiet groups of two and four. There was no provision for anyone else. There was no place where strangers would come together freely — as in a Bavarian beer hall or a Russian amusement park — for the mere purpose of being together and enjoying new acquaintances. Even the saloons were nearly empty.
“It seemed for a moment as through this quiet nocturnal stream of temporary moving prisons, of closed doors and closed groups, was the reductio ad absurdum of the exaggerated American desire for privacy. What was in England an evil of the upper class seemed here to have become the vice of the entire population. It was the sad climax of individualism, the blind alley of a generation which had forgotten how to think or live collectively, of a people whose private lives wee so brittle, so insecure that they dared not subject them to the slightest social contact with the casual stranger, of people who felt neither curiosity nor responsibility for the mass of those who shared their community life and their community problems.
…”But nothing which I was destined to see subsequently served to weaken the relief at the thought that this sad breakdown of human association in urban America was something that could not last, and that whatever else might be sacrificed in the years to come, the spirit of fellowship having reached its lowest ebb, could not fail to be the gainer.”
Soon after this, Pearl Harbor took us into a world war and social contact was forced by circumstance. I wonder how Kennan would react to what we see nowadays. He died in 2005, at the age of 101.