I've been on the road too much this month. Because I wanted to spend the first months of 2009 in California, I pushed readings back to April, and that combined with National Poetry Month has turned me into something of a blur. But there have also been more good parts of April than I can list. Here are two: last night at the Hopkins School in New Haven, CT, the audience of students and parents and teachers were amazing. Standing at the front of the room, I felt I was facing into a kind of tunnel of silence, a deeply focused attention in which nothing was missed. It was a remarkable feeling, different than the stillness of the zendo I described a few posts back; this was a hungry, energetic, eager silence.
And tonight I write from New Orleans, where I've spent the day with people from the library here and from the Audubon Zoo -- in the very room on Dauphine Street were Audubon painted while he lived in New Orleans -- cooking up some plans for a poetry-in-the-zoo project like the one that Sandra Alcosser's spearheaded in Central Park.
The zoo here has two Asian elephants who seem the spirits of the place, and the thought of actually going and spending time with them fills me with delight.
But this evening brings hard news too, that Craig Arnold is missing, on a small volcanic island in Japan. Craig's a brilliant poet; his first book, SHELLS, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, and his second, MADE FLESH, was just recently published. I met Craig in 1996, when I went to interview for a job at the University of Utah, and had to teach a little demonstration workshop. Craig was one of the students, and he brought to the group a poem called "Hot," a remarkable narrative, in rhyming couplets, about two men whose friendship is worked out over their competitive mutual addiction to and obsession with unbearably over-seasoned foods. It's the sort of complete, bravura poem that, appearing in a workshop, simply leaves everyone breathless, as if it were now up to us to "workshop" something operatic, artfully elaborated, and thoroughly achieved. Yeah, right. We did our best. The poem's in SHELLS, and it's one of Craig's signature poems. I'm thinking too of Craig reading at Brazos Books in Houston, turning away from the audience between poems, then wheeling around and dramatically reciting each piece. He read like a performance poet, though his poems were anything but spontaneous; they were elegantly wrought monologues, the product of an exactingly formal intelligence. But how alive they sounded!
Information about the ongoing search for Craig, and about the effort to pressure the Japanese police to continue the search is at findcraigarnold.blogspot.com.