Eliot Schain

May 26, 2020

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In Eliot Schain’s latest collection, The Distant Sound (Sixteen Rivers Press 2020), we enter a type of concert where the poet conducts his many memories. From a truck stop men’s room to the Chez Paree, from Gallery 41 of the Uffizi Museum to a Mexican town, each memory brings a new story, a new world. But for me, personally, it hardly matters what the memory is because the music that takes me there is so compelling. The rhythm and flow of his language pull me through each poem like a breeze pulls a kite. “As all the Heavens were a Bell, / and Being, but an Ear…” (Emily Dickinson), reads the epigraph to this book; it is a perfect place to begin.

But don’t let my appreciation of his music diminish the power of his words — some brilliant choices — or the meanings they convey.

Kazim Ali writes “The smaller the moments of a life become epic and transcendent through the attentions of the poet’s mind. This is Eliot Schain’s gift. Nothing is ordinary — not an old friendship from youth, not a spouse of many years. Everything is seen keenly and anew.”

Eliot Schain is the author of Westering Angels and American Romance. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review and Ploughshares, as well as several anthologies. He received his MFA from Columbia University and has worked as a teacher and psychotherapist.

Here are just a few poems from The Distant Sound beginning with the opening poem. I can’t do justice when it comes to representing the wide range of work between the first page of this book and the last, but you’ll at least have a taste, or a tune. Your comments will be welcomed.

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The Old Shepherd

When the sound took me out of the house and into the yard

it grew wings and en-colored like that lofty earth-bird

who will not flee us so I stayed close to the sound

and the nerve within that was always trembling

trembled again until I closed in on the ghosts

and their kind voices and empty forms so close to mine

like those cracks in the universe leaking still more color

until I could not what we call see but could feel and hear

so I followed the sound as if drinking from the chalice again

and continued through the city with its warrens and cafes

and old homes carved out of nothing as is everything

and then moved on to the countryside where lakes became

eyes dotting the earth’s skin to lure me deeper into sound.

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God and Creek

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When Jon was eight and went to the creek shaded by cottonwoods

in a distant city on the American Plain he was flooded b the miracle

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of going home as the dappled light and the toads near the water and

the depressions in the ground that welcomed his bare toes reminded

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his bones — though they would last a long, long time — that what would

make him a man was in the sound that comes by night or in those soft

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corners of the day when the claptrap and the frittering are left behind…

he placed his palms to the surface of that drifting water and its church

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came into him as it would forever onward — for what is maturation but

swelling reverence for this home we were given by some odd divine

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who chose us to be both urn and ashes and so Jon accepted his town and

pecked with the others at what we might become but always remembered

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the water from which the toads and the cottonwoods and all our gods

build their beautiful echoes with gates so we can be both human and free.

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Rebuttal

after Robert Frost

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When I was a boy to climb a tree

was the easiest way to unhook from sorrow —

the firm feel of wood to lean upon

and leverage for some greater height

as one goes up was sweeter

than what I’d found on common ground

searching among fallen fruits and nuts

for something that would get me so I could eat.

The sky was an inkling of some greater park

with fantastic swings and deeper pools

as the branches thinned and the wind revived.

The thrill of going higher was closer to truth

than some classroom where boys and girls played

like cheap toys and broke if handled ardently.

I preferred ardent about the sky,

and thus am here alone, just timberline,

still climbing, my old friends like

branches suspending me as I head for heaven

which is the best place for love.

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Published by Katherine Hastings

Katherine Hastings is the author of three collections from Spuyten Duyvil Press (NYC): Shakespeare & Stein Walk Into a Bar (2016); Nighthawks (2014); and Cloud Fire (2012), as well as several chapbooks. Poet laureate emerita of Sonoma County, CA, Hastings edited Know Me Here — An Anthology of Poetry by Women; Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County; and What Redwoods Know — Poems from California State Parks, published as a benefit for the California State Parks Foundation when 70 parks were faced with permanent closure. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Book of Forms — A Handbook of Poetics (University Press of New England, Lewis Putnam Turco, editor); Verde Que Te Quiero Verde — Poems After Federico Garcia Lorca (Open Country Press, Natalie Peeterse, Editor); Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center, Joseph Zaccardi, editor); Beatitude — Golden Anniversary (Latif Harris and Neeli Cherkovski, editors), among others. She hosted WordTemple on NPR affiliate KRCB FM from 2017 — 2017 and founded the WordTemple Poetry Series in Sonoma County (2006 — 2017) where she also taught craft-focused poetry workshops. Following the October 2017 wildfires, Hastings moved with her partner to Western New York in 2018. "Shakespeare & Stein Walk in to Bar is animated by the two most rewarding and replenishing of poetic forces: dexterous formal diversity and a fierce, unflinching searching..." — Malachi Black "Rooted in what Hastings calls the "momentary forever," these marvelous poems, so rich with detail and so full of duende, explore the paradoxes of transience. Yes, the poet reminds us: 'The alarm is set and ticking' for each least thing in the living world..." — Susan Kelly-DeWitt On Cloud Fire: "Lovely...it's your veiled history." — Lawrence Ferlinghetti "For Katherine Hastings, 'The mirror is a lake of longing'. Her poems are told us by 'a woman with a moon in her chest;' their surprising images embrace close observation, deeply dramatized love and losses, and have the power of crossing boundaries of spirit to reveal truths otherwise unseen." — Daniel Hoffman, US Poet Laureate, 1973 — 1974

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