Sometime back, I don’t remember how long exactly, I lent one of my favorite books to someone, I don’t remember who. I wouldn’t have remembered it’s absence had I not decided to send a poem from it to Jonathan Greene, co-editor of the lovely new anthology Succinct: The Broadstone Anthology of Short Poems. That aim brought me to the “P’s” in the Poetry section of my library*, where I discovered an empty space instead of the book I was after, To the End of Time: Poems New and Selected, by the underrated poet and pottery artist William Pillin. Any book lover who has rashly lent out a favorite without recording the fact knows the sinking feeling that flows from such spaces. Anyway, I ended up buying a replacement copy—nice, but not as lovely as my original—and when it arrived I spent a wonderful couple of hours steeped in the pleasures only re-reading can provide. Here are a couple that especially pleased me this time around, the first being the poem I was searching for in the first place, the second one that just happens to speak to my own concerns, and third … well, it speaks for itself:
TO A CUSTOMER
If you dislike our pot, mister,
go buy from another.
But don’t stand there with a turned-up nose,
I labored in shaping the slender amphora
and Polia designed a small alleluia upon it.
Your shadow lingers over the highlights.
Lord, I’m fed up with the busy spiders
and their tenuous spit of thought,
who, lacking the stuff for a quarto,
lose tenure and lecture appointments.
They fatten their purses
by spreading confusion
among wide-eyed gudgeons.
They see nothing
but their own grimacing faces
in a delirium of mirrors.
Most of all I suspect
the rare sincere ones:
the pale moon-masters
with eyes like well-lights.
What on earth are they saying?
Their whispers faint in the distance.
With an acknowledgment to Moishe Leib Halpern
Listen, my beloved son:
I worked al my life like a dray-horse.
This house and a measure of savings
will cushion your future;
but if ever I see you moon-struck
with a notion to write a paper
on Whither This? or The Future of Something,
so help me, I will leave my possessions
to a Society for Simplified Spelling
or some such fuddle. Dear offspring,
take up wine, venery, gaming—
not theorists, not dialecticians!
The angel Akriel**, frowning
over my catalogue of laments
says: “Stop this brutal staring
at passing females.
like a frenzied bullfrog.
Remember the weight
of your seasons,
that your greed burns
on a feeble battery.
Cool it before
it dims and darkens.”
Angel, as I nod to your wisdom
my eyes are glued
to the delicate swellings
of passing Angelique,
to whom I whisper
as she strolls by:
Let the diary of your days
hold some pages for me.
Do not let me
on a pendulum of sighs.
Although Pillin died almost three decades ago, in 1985, his poetry remains fresh and invigorating, humane and honest, much more against the current now than it was when he was alive. Where is his Collected Poems? In my view, Pillin deserves to be back in print, though his isn’t the sort of verse PoBiz prefers, so I won’t be holding my breath.
- * Yes, I alphabetize my books by author’s last name within subject sections: Poetry, Fiction, Anthologies, Belles Lettres, etc. This is a hangover from my work-study days at the University of Northern Colorado, where I labored in the library, moving books from the old Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress cataloging system.
- ** According to Richard Webster’s Encyclopedia of Angels: “Traditionally, Akriel is the angel of barrenness, called upon for help in cases of infertility. Nowadays, he is called upon for help with all problems associated with sexuality, including conception, sterility, and lack of libido. Akriel is also called upon to aid people suffering from mental illness. He also helps people improve their memories and encourages them to undertake mentally challenging tasks. People who are studying and need to memorize a great deal of material also call upon him. Akriel is sometimes called the angel of intellectual achievement. He wears yellow robes with a wide red belt around his waist. In one hand he holds a large red heart.”